Summer 2021 guide: 21 albums you need to hear

All the Canadian releases you should check out including JP Saxe, the Halluci Nation, Ralph and more.

All the Canadian releases you should check out including JP Saxe, the Halluci Nation, Ralph and more

Expect new releases from Chiild, JP Saxe and Luna Li this summer. (Chiiild/Facebook, Matthew Takes, Felice Trinidad; graphic by CBC)

Summertime is officially here. Unlike last year's music festival silence, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tours and big events are slowly coming together once again. And while most of the action seems to be taking place south of the border, with most Canadian festivals still hosting events virtually or postponing in-person events until 2022, signs of concerts returning in the near future are giving music fans worldwide a flicker of hope.

Until then, the next few months will be packed, as usual, with new music releases to keep us company. As we gradually regroup in parks and backyards with our friends and loved ones, let these upcoming albums serve as the season's soundtrack. 

Below, we've chosen 21 Canadian albums we can't wait to hear this summer. What new records are you looking forward to? Share with us on Twitter @CBCMusic

Artist: Loony
Album: soft thing
Release date: June 24

Scarborough singer Loony, one of Canadian R&B's most exciting — and impressive — new voices, is slated to drop her new EP, soft thing, this Thursday, featuring eight soulful new tracks and cameos from U.S. rappers Mick Jenkins and Pell. Borrowing from the early '90s R&B bedrocks, soft thing is a blend of deep, groovy ballads and New York trip-hop cool, anchored by the Elton John-approved singer's buttery croon. Just last week, Loony was announced as part of the stacked Day N Vegas festival lineup, which includes everyone from Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott to Tyler the Creator and SZA, proving that she's being yanked from the Canadian underground into the global arena, where a voice with her richness belongs. As for soft thing, Loony couldn't have picked a better release date as songs like these are made for that fading 9 p.m. summer light — the one that signals to park-sitting city-dwellers that the day is closing, and nothing lasts forever. — Jess Huddleston

Artist: JP Saxe
Album: Dangerous Levels of Introspection
Release date: June 25

When the Juno Awards named JP Saxe the breakthrough artist of 2021, it was the understatement of the year — the singer-songwriter from Toronto has quickly become a household name with a string of massive hit singles bearing his trademark vulnerability and effusiveness, including "If the World was Ending" (featuring Julia Michaels), "A Little bit Yours," and most recently, "More of You." Those songs lead the way on Saxe's aptly titled debut album, the 13-track Dangerous Levels of Introspection, due out June 25 with a supporting international tour announced for the fall. You may be soundtracking your summer with happy bops, but plan on keeping Dangerous Levels of Introspection within reach for those solitary moments calling for emotional release. As Saxe told CBC Music, "there is so much sincerity in these songs that it actually scares the crap out of me sometimes." — Robert Rowat

Artist: Chromeo 
Album: Date Night: Chromeo Live!
Release date: June 25 

Chromeo is best experienced live, crammed up against other bodies as you dance along to the Montreal duo's funk-pop anthems. On June 25, the band will release its first live album, Date Night: Chromeo Live! via Last Gang Records/eOne. Recorded during their last tour in 2019, the setlist features all their biggest hits, from "Fancy Footwork" to "Jealous (I Ain't With It)." In a press release, member Dave 1 described this set as "over-the-top, but then again so is pretty much everything we do." Till in-person concerts can happen again, this live album is the closest we'll get to having a full-blown dance party with one of the best electronic acts in Canada. — Melody Lau

Artist: Ellis 
Album: nothing is sacred anymore EP
Release date: June 25 

Last year, Hamilton musician Linnea Siggelkow, better known as Ellis, impressed us with her debut album, Born Again. (Her song "Fall Apart" even landed on our top 100 songs of 2020 list.) Now, a little over a year later, Siggelkow is back with another release. The EP, nothing is sacred anymore, continues to gradually expand her soft-spoken indie-rock soundscapes, as shown on singles "Hospital" and the especially devastating "What if Love Isn't Enough." Once again, Siggelkow served as her own producer, while also working alongside Dizzy's Charlie Spencer. — ML

Artists: I M U R
Album: My Molecules
Release date: June 25

Vancouver's I M U R has paved the way for its new 14-song album with three riveting singles: the Joni Mitchell-inspired "Case of You," the brooding quarantine anthem "Sad Girls Club," and most recently, "Birdseye," a sternum-shaking meditation on rebounding from rock-bottom. The pandemic hiatus has evidently invigorated the alt-R&B trio comprising Jenny Lea (vocals), Mikey J. Blige (guitar/production) and Amine Bouzaher (various instruments, production), whose fusion of electronic, hip-hop and progressive pop coalesces around surprisingly dark subjects and bears a refreshing complexity not often heard in club-oriented music. — RR

Artist: Gong Gong Gong
Album: Phantom Rhythm Remixed
Release date: June 25

In 2019, CBC Music named Montreal/Beijing duo Gong Gong Gong one of that year's breakout new artists on the strength of their debut album, Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏. Now, two years later, the band is returning with a remixed version of that album. Featuring 10 new remixes by artists with various ties to China, these reworked tracks help expand the sometimes minimalist, post-punk sound into more sonically adventurous territories, whether it's the crunchy stadium rock of Howie Lee's take on "Gong Gong Gong Blues 工工工布魯斯" or Yu Su's electronic experimentation grafted on top of "Some Kind of Demon 某一種惡魔." This release will be a nice expansion pack for established fans, and a technicolour way of experiencing Gong Gong Gong for newcomers. — ML 

Artist: Ralph
Album: Gradience EP
Release date: July 7

It's not summertime until you get a catchy Ralph song stuck in your head. Two years after her last release, 2019's Flashbacks & Fantasies EP, the Toronto pop artist is back with another EP titled Gradience. Featuring singles "Tommy" and "Love Potion," the record draws inspiration from, according to a press release, "icons like Cher, Donna Summer and Kate Bush," focusing on the same '70s and '80s glam sound as her 2017 self-titled debut EP. If you're looking for ironclad earworms, this is the place to find them as Ralph continues to solidify her status as one of Canada's most consistent pop songwriters. — ML

Artist: Charlotte Day Wilson
Album: Alpha
Release date: July 9

While it may feel like the last five years have been heavily influenced by the powerhouse vocals and touch of Charlotte Day Wilson's moving R&B, the singer, songwriter and producer has yet to release a debut full-length album — until this summer. Announcing the release with the striking imagery (lyrical and literal) of first single "If I Could," featuring a moving verse from fellow Torontonian and rising star Mustafa, Wilson unearthed something that felt more intimate and personal than ever, a self-discovery that sounds both painful and healing. With 2016's CDW and 2018's Stone Woman EPs (not to mention 2012's Palimpsest, which is increasingly difficult to find), Wilson proved she was a killer, one-woman production studio — and her collaborations with BadBadNotGood, Daniel Caesar, Kaytranada and more have only added to that reputation. On the second single from Alpha, "Keep Moving," Wilson continues to take her time unveiling her work, possibly revelling in these last days before the full project is revealed. Because once Alpha is out, there will be no hiding from the limelight. — Holly Gordon

Artist: Aasiva
Album: Niriunniq
Release date: July 9

Profound, destabilizing grief isn't something you get past, it's something you move through. Pangnirtung artist Aasiva conveys that with haunting clarity on her new album, Niriunniq. A year after the release of Aasiva's acclaimed 2018 self-titled debut of uke-driven folk-pop, her mother died suddenly. Her followup record, due out on Nunavut Day, is rooted in that loss, but it's also a reflection of how Aasiva navigated her heartbreak: with hope, which is what Niriunniq means in English. The album's second single, "Piqatiikka," is indicative of the kind of new sonic landscape Aasiva has crafted for her followup. An electro-pop wash shimmers on top of an earthy layer of rhythmic throat singing (courtesy of the Juno-nominated, electro-pop singer-songwriter and throat singer Riit) as Aasiva's voice shines like a sky full of stars. This is the sound of hope, and we're lucky that Aasiva has shared her journey with us in this way. — Andrea Warner

Artist: Lex Leosis 
Album: Terracotta EP
Release date: Summer 2021

Toronto rapper Lex Leosis released her most recent album, Mythologies, on March 27, 2020. For many, that date will likely spark memories of lockdowns first being placed in Canada. Understandably, that had an impact on Leosis's rollout as the former Sorority member had to cancel all her promotions: tours, interviews, celebrations. Instead of letting that defeat her, Leosis said in a statement that she used this time to rebuild, and Terracotta is one of the products of that. A six-song EP that's inspired by a loved one as well as how Leosis has felt about this past year, Terracotta's teasers, "Won't Wait" and "Wanted" promise the sunny summer vibes that we all desperately need this year. — ML

Artist: K.D.A.P. 
Album: Influences
Release date: July 16

K.D.A.P. is the newest project of Broken Social Scene leader Kevin Drew. Diehard fans of the Toronto collective are probably familiar with Drew's penchant for big, anthemic songs, often accompanied live by heartfelt banter that borders on motivational speech (in an endearing way, we promise). But with K.D.A.P., Drew is letting the music speak for itself. Influences is an instrumental album that, according to a press release, indulges in Drew's love of "Brian Eno's ambient works, Morricone soundtracks, Chicago post-rock, and the early Warp Records catalogue." While lead single "The Slinfold Loop" leans a little more on electronic soundscapes, it still features some of Drew's signature musical tendencies, especially warm guitar riffs that evoke some of Broken Social Scene's own instrumental output such as 2001's Feel Good Lost or the underrated You Forgot it in People cut, "Pacific Theme." — ML

Artist: waants
Album: Love u Forever
Release date: July 16

If you're looking for a chill pop album with a melancholy lining for your summer days, then look no further than waants' Love u Forever. Adam Warren, the multi-hyphenate musician behind Halifax indie-pop trio Glory Glory for the last decade, has set out under the name waants for his solo debut, working with New York City producer Justin Gerrish (Vampire Weekend, the Strokes) to craft catchy-as-hell songs peppered with self-doubt and buoyed by an inclination for optimism. Plucky track "I Won't be Sad" has Warren semi-spiralling to times he regrets, but he leans on the chorus to pull him back up: "I won't be sad/ I won't be sad/ be by my side/ daughter of mine." His actual daughter, Hannah, pops in at the end, saying, reassuringly, "Be yourself." But there's a slight jab afterward: "But you're not always yourself, sometimes you're different than yourself." Standout track "Keep Careful," featuring Sorrey, relies on '80s synths and a grooving guitar to keep things dancey and light, but the lines cut deep: "If I move on/ my love will be gone/ so keep careful/ 'cause I feel like breaking up." Love u Forever is a little bit dark and a lot of fun — just the way we like it. — HG

Artist: Chiiild
Album: Hope for Sale
Release date: July 23

Chiiild is the project of Montreal's Yonatan Ayal, who put himself squarely on the alt-R&B map with his 2020 EP, Synthetic Soul. That momentum has carried into 2021, with a string of arresting new singles — "Sleepwalking," "Awake," "Gone" and now "Eventually" — that underline the potential of his sophomore effort, Hope for Sale. (He performed a medley of songs from the album on Jimmy Kimmel Live earlier this month.) Expect songs with a funk foundation, lots of dreamy, distorted guitar, synthesizer that recalls '70s psychedelia, and songwriting that employs Ayal's soft-grained vocals to flesh out highly personal themes. It's a winning formula that's sure to nab Chiiild some attention on year-end lists and a few award nominations. — RR

Artists: Lolaa
Album: La Marea
Release date: July 23

It's been four years since Lolaa's English-language debut, and La Marea isn't just worth the wait, it's the perfect soundtrack to a post-lockdown, summer-long dance party. Crafted by first-generation Mexican/Canadian sisters Lex Valentine and Nadia King, La Marea is a collection of nuevo pop songs in English and Spanish. The sisters' name-check a who's-who of '70s and '80s icons as inspiration for the album's sonic foundation: Daniela Romo, Gloria Estefan, Camilo Sesto, Debbie Harry and Donna Summer. Every track is vibrant and distinct, but always in conversation with one another, moving the listener along on a shimmery, sun-drenched journey. Shake off your pandemic break-up with the album's opening tracks "Always Known" and "Shake My Hand," strut your stuff to the intoxicating "Besame," or lose yourself in a vortex of joy in the album's delightful kiss goodbye, "Disco Serenata." — AW

Artist: The Halluci Nation
Album: One More Saturday Night
Release date: July 30

"John Trudell gave us the Halluci Nation," reads the description of the YouTube video for the group's newest single, "Remember 01." "He saw a vision of us that would take us years to realize."

That process of realization is taking more concrete shape for producer/DJ duo the Halluci Nation, formerly known as A Tribe Called Red. Tim "200lman" Hill and Ehren "Bear Witness" Thomas are the remaining members (co-founder Ian "DJ NDN" Campeau left in 2017), and while the new name was only announced in April 2021 — as indirectly bestowed by the late poet, activist and musician Trudell — the group has been working on the idea for years: it was the partial title of its 2016 Polaris Prize-nominated concept album, We are the Halluci Nation, itself an introduction to a nation that aimed to promote "inclusivity, empathy and acceptance amongst all races and genders in the name of social justice." While "Remember 01" is a moving tribute to Trudell, incorporating his 2014 speech (from when they all met) with the Halluci Nation's trademark powwow step, there's little else known so far about the group's upcoming release, One More Saturday Night — aside from the title's nod to the Halluci Nation's ever popular Ottawa dance nights when the group was just getting its feet wet. It all spells out the anticipation of a powerful work, one that looks to where the Halluci Nation was created — and to how it's laying claim to the future. — HG

Artists: Grej, Maureen Batt 
Album: Lighthouse
Release date: Aug. 6

"Lighthouse is for anyone who has experienced the loss of someone close," explains soprano Maureen Batt, who teams up with Grej (percussionist/producer/composer Greg Harrison) for this new project on the Leaf Music label. Pushing classical art song into a new realm with electronics and polished studio effects, Lighthouse is a cycle of nine songs based on letters written by their friend, Tom Belding, to his late wife, Ashley Belding, who died from cancer in her 30s. To tell this love story tinged with grief, Batt's voice is enveloped in a mix of piano, harmonium, synthesizer, and field recordings that fuses elements of minimalism, electronica and prog-rock. Exciting to see where classically trained musicians will go when they think outside the box and embrace other genres. — RR

Artists: The Nightcrawlers
Album: Do you Know a Good Thing?
Release date: Aug. 6

It's been eight long years since the Nightcrawlers' last album, Volume 3, a drought that will end on Aug. 6 with Do You Know a Good Thing?, the venerable Vancouver jazz group's fourth album. For this outing, the Nightcrawlers are Cory Weeds (tenor saxophone), Dave Sikula (guitar), Chris Gestrin (organ) and leader Jesse Cahill (drums) — with Jack Duncan playing congas on five tracks. Modelling themselves after the great, soulful Hammond B3 organ bands of the '60s, the Nightcrawlers play jazz compositions from that seminal era: Donald Byrd's "Soulful Kitty," Hank Marr's "Greasy Spoon," and the title track, Shirley Scott's "Do You Know a Good Thing When You See One?" You can also look forward to their soulful take on the romantic standard "These Foolish Things," and "New Mango," a Gestrin original. As Weeds says via press release, "I hope you enjoy gettin' greasy with the Nightcrawlers." — RR

Do You Know a Good Thing is the Nightcrawlers' 1st album since 2013's Volume 3. (Submitted by Cellar Live)

Artist: Wolf Castle
Album: Da Vinci's Inquest EP
Release date: Aug. 6

Wolf Castle, a.k.a. Tristan Grant, is a Mi'kmaq rapper from Pabineau First Nation, just south of Bathurst, N.B., and this final instalment in a four-EP set is sure to push his name further outside his home province. Fresh off two East Coast Music Award nominations (rap/hip-hop recording of the year and Indigenous artist of the year) for his previous EP, Gold Rush, Grant released "Welf Man," a rapid-fire jam about being "strong, thrifty, and know[ing] how to do things because we had to find any way to keep going and move forward no matter what," as he said in the press release. Grant notes that "Welf" was an insult when he was in school, short for "welfare," and used to "make fun of people who were poor." He continued: "My family has had their struggles, and so have a lot of other people where I'm from, so I wanted to make a song that said it was OK to be from that and to do what you had to do to get by. It was my way of saying 'Screw you' to those people. The insult ironically also sounds like 'Wealth' and I also wanted to abbreviate it to 'W.E.L.F,' standing for 'Working Everyday Living Famous.'"

Grant names Mac Miller, Tyler the Creator and Vince Staples as influences (and name-drops Kendrick Lamar in the new single), and his beats and clever raps toggle between a socially conscious backbone and bangers fresh for summer (not two mutually exclusive things for him, either). Perfect for an Aug. 6 release, via Forward Music Group. — HG

Artist: Hank Knox
Album: Scarlatti: Essercizi per gravicembalo
Release date: Aug. 20

Of the 555 keyboard sonatas composed by Domenico Scarlatti, the 30 contained in Essercizi per gravicembalo have the distinction of being the only ones edited under the supervision of the composer, who described them in a preface as "an ingenious banter in the art to exercise you in rigorous play of the harpsichord." There are few better versed in ingenious banter and rigorous play than Montreal's Hank Knox, who recorded this double album over four days in the pristine acoustics of Église St. Augustin in Mirabel, Que., on a Richard Kingston harpsichord, based on an instrument built by Johann Daniel Dulcken in 1745 in Antwerp. This collection contains some of Scarlatti's best-known sonatas. Expect a playful performance by Knox, full of arpeggios and hand-crossing, with the occasional pensive interlude. — RR

Artist: Luna Li 
Album: TBA
Release date: Summer 2021

When COVID-19 hit, many musicians were forced to press pause, and with that came isolation and a general shrinking down of one's world into a bubble. But for Luna Li (real name Hannah Kim), performing on live streams — like U.S. collective 88rising's Asia Rising event in May 2020 — helped her expand her reach. As she told the Toronto Star: "I was able to connect with people from Indonesia, all over Asia — that's something I never would have imagined." With more and more people paying attention, as well as a coveted opening slot for Japanese Breakfast's upcoming tour, Kim is now gearing up for her highly anticipated debut album. Combining her classical training with her more indie-rock tendencies, songs like "Cherry Pit" and "Alone But Not Lonely" are great starting points for newcomers, but they only scratch at the surface of what Kim is capable of. A bright spot in what has otherwise been a difficult time in the world, Luna Li is poised to be one of Toronto's most exciting new talents to emerge this year. — ML 

Artist: Hubert Lenoir
Album: Musique directe
Release date: Summer 2021

Hubert Lenoir's debut album brought more attention to the Quebec artist than he expected. The first French-language album shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize in seven years, 2018's Darlène had both French and English media labelling him as a subversive artist to watch, particularly after he performed one of the album's standout tracks, "Fille de personne II," on Quebec singing competition show La Voix  showing off a tattoo on his left butt cheek: an ejaculating fleur-de-lis. With Musique directe, an album he started working on in L.A. just a month before the pandemic took hold last year, Lenoir is looking inward, incorporating field recordings that include pieces of conversation over the years, announcements from Montreal transit and media criticism (both personal and professional), giving the album a lived-in feel. These glimpses into Lenoir's unsettled, still-processing mind connect the self-contained tracks on the album, including lead single "Secret," its eerie, chugging groove with Mac DeMarco on drums — setting the stage for Lenoir's message: "Condoléances à tous ceux qui sont comme moi." ("Condolences to everyone who is like me.") While Darlène was a glam rock-inspired narrative centred on two quasi-fictional characters, Musique directe leans more toward R&B and pop, delivering exactly what its title states: music that directly connects the listener to who Lenoir is right now. — HG