Top 40 Canadian Albums of the 2000s

Before the '00s, Canadian music was, outside of its shores, treated with a critical derision that served as the musical equivalent of "eh?" jokes; the mocking mention of Rush and/or Alanis Morrissette seemingly obligatory. But, beginning with the flowering of Montreal's Constellation scene in the late-'90s, things began to change. And, by the mid-'00s, they'd changed completely: Arcade Fire making Canada the center of the indie-rock world. So, let's look back at the decade in which the Great White North shook off an often-embarrassing musical legacy, with a host of albums of great artistic worth.

01
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Godspeed You Black Emperor! 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas...' (2000)

Godspeed You Black Emperor! 'Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven' (2000)
Godspeed You Black Emperor! 'Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven' (2000). Constellation

Post-rock co-op Godspeed You! Black Emperor were, perhaps, the first sure sign that a Canadian rock revolution was taking place. The provocative, political, thoughtful entity embraced the urban-blight of their hometown, Montréal, both musically and socially. On record —as on their monolithic double-LP classic Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven— they practiced a kind of musical architectural psychology; every dewy note of frayed guitar, every ghostly field recording, every weeping wail of violin teasing out their soundtracked city's every alley, every crack, every drain, every broken pane. Off the record, they helped build the recording studios, rehearsal spaces, and live venues from which Montréal's music scene would soon erupt.

02
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The New Pornographers 'Mass Romantic' (2000)

The New Pornographers 'Mass Romantic' (2000)
The New Pornographers 'Mass Romantic' (2000). Mint
For fans of power-pop, Mass Romantic was like manna from heaven; an instant genre classic that thrust the New Pornographers —a recording concern that was, at best, a side-project for its otherwise-occupied members— alongside their heroes Big Star, Red Kross, and Cheap Trick. The project was a songwriting love-in between Zumpano's Carl Newman and Destroyer's Daniel Bejar, and it reached for half-comic 'supergroup' status by inviting Neko Case and Limblifter's Kurt Dahle along for the ride. Mass Romantic proved a ridiculous success —and turned The New Pornographers into a bonafide band and eventual indie powerhouse— because it hewed close to the tenets of the power-pop: playing brightly melodic, riotously upbeat, and joyously loud.

03
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Peaches 'The Teaches of Peaches' (2000)

Peaches 'The Teaches of Peaches' (2000)
Peaches 'The Teaches of Peaches' (2000). Kitty-Yo

Merrill Nisker was an ex-pat school-teacher who, after years playing coffee-house folk in Toronto, had hitched to Berlin with but a 505 (the groovebox!) on her back. Ditching the pretty for the dirty, she punched at the drum-machine's buttons in a punk-rock fashion, and invented herself anew. Nisker authored the outlandish persona Peaches —a salacious, foul-mouthed, sexually-aggressive provocateur part Prince, part Lil' Kim— and set about creating a wild, out-of-control one-woman-show. Such chutzpah may've stalled, except every song Nisker wrote seemed like an anthem; her debut LP, The Teaches of Peaches, filled with tunes —"Lovertits," "AA XXX," "F**k the Pain Away"— that'd remain liveshow staples for the rest of the decade.

04
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Stars 'Nightsongs' (2001)

Stars 'Nightsongs' (2001)
Stars 'Nightsongs' (2001). Le Grand Magistery

Long before they were epic indie-rockers hailing from a much-hyped Montréal scene, before, even, they were one of the countless bands whose career got a leg up via their membership in Broken Social Scene, Stars were just a couple of dudes living in New York, making twee, '80s-centric, Pet Shop Boys-loving electro-pop at a time in which that couldn't have been less cool. Torquil Campbell and Chris Seligman's debut album, as Stars, has none of the swelling grandeur of 2004's Set Yourself On Fire, but its lack of ambition brings with it its own charm. The only real balls-out moment is when the pair dare to cover their heroes, The Smiths, taking on their most-famous song, "This Charming Man," with an army of synths and a sense of humor.

05
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Hangedup 'Hangedup' (2001)

Hangedup 'Hangedup' (2001)
Hangedup 'Hangedup' (2001). Constellation

Given few cared about Hangedup in their day, it seems likely they'll only grow more neglected with each passing decade. Their debut LP found the duo —Sackville members Genevieve Heistek and Eric Craven— cranking out a locomotive sound from only viola squalls and junkyard percussion, their insistent playing fostering a rhythmic chug of perpetual forward motion. They even dare to bring New Order's "Blue Monday" along for the ride, refashioning the eternal dancefloor anthem as a stark, rattling, post-classical study in attack and decay. Their next two albums —2002's Kicker in Tow and 2005's Clatter for Control— would sound pretty good, too, but this set captures Hangedup's elemental sound at its most essential.

06
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Julie Doiron 'Heart and Crime' (2002)

Julie Doiron 'Heart and Crime' (2002)
Julie Doiron 'Heart and Crime' (2002). Jagjaguwar

As one of the founders of Eric's Trip, Julie Doiron helped put Canadian alternative music —not to mention Moncton, New Brunswick— on the international map. Her band's fuzzed-out love-pop fit in during Sub Pop's grunge hey-day, but her solo music was another story. Initially recording as Broken Girl, Doiron played with a frightening fragility: her guitar lightly brushed, her singing hardly even a whisper. By her fourth album, Heart and Crime, Doiron was employing her tiny sounds with savage emotional precision; every note that punctures that resounding silence carrying with it a sense of genuine gravity. Oh, and, the LP's opener, "Wintermitts," also happens to be possibly the most romantic depiction of family life ever committed to tape.

07
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Broken Social Scene 'You Forgot it in People' (2002)

Broken Social Scene 'You Forgot it in People' (2002)
Broken Social Scene 'You Forgot it in People' (2002). Arts & Crafts

Let's just say it: "Lover's Spit" is a power-ballad up there with U2's "One" and Pat Benatar's "We Belong." Sure, the song's suggestively about fellatio —both symbolic and literal— but, to listen to its hyper-romantic wall-of-sound is to submit yourself to something grand, romantic, and a tiny bit embarrassing. Sardonic lyrics aside, it's a reach-for-the-sky moment: its masses of guitars, washed-out strings, tender piano parts, and brass highlights like some six-minute slow-dance for hipster proms. "Lover's Spit" is, still, the defiant highlight of Broken Social Scene's second record, whose success was so colossal that it shined a global spotlight on a small community of Toronto musicians, as entirely contained in one very big band.

08
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Gonzales 'Presidential Suite' (2002)

Gonzales 'Presidential Suite' (2002)
Gonzales 'Presidential Suite' (2002). Kitty-Yo
Jason Beck fit plenty into the '00s: living in Berlin and Paris, inventing a ridiculous 'Jew-funk' rap persona, hitting stages with Peaches, crashing the classic world with a solo piano LP, advancing the early career of Feist, challenging Andrew W-K to a solo duel, and, eventually, reinventing himself once more as '70s-soft-pop crooner. His second LP, Presidential Suite, came during Gonzales's electro/rap era, but it touches on most of his varied musical elements: rappin' wigga on "So-Called Party Over There," scuffling with Peaches on "The Joy of Thinking," introducing Feist as torch-singer on "Shameless Eyes," and tossing in inventive instrumental interludes. Plus, it has "Take Me to Broadway," Gonzo's most dancefloor-filling moment.

09
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Metric 'Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?' (2003)

Metric 'Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?' (2003)
Metric 'Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?' (2003). Last Gang

Blessed with the star quality of the very charismatic, very blonde Emily Haines, Metric were always a sure bet for success. Yet, those clueless music-biz suits initially botched the sale: the band's debut, 2001's great Grow Up and Blow Away, was permanently shelved by their label, Rykodisc, and only exhumed long after Metric were a known commodity. Yet, Haines and co were hardly defeated by the experience: their first-actually-released album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, delivered a boisterous set of spiky, sparkling pop-songs masking melancholy lyrics riddled with doubt. What was never in doubt was Metric's eventual, inevitable fame; and, sure enough, in these 37 minutes they went from biz casualties to Gold Records.

10
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Manitoba 'Up in Flames' (2003)

Manitoba 'Up in Flames' (2003)
Manitoba 'Up in Flames' (2003). Leaf

Dan Snaith's debut album as Manitoba, 2001's Start Breaking My Heart hardly suggested greatness. In fact, it barely suggested mediocrity: Snaith debuting with a bland collection of coffeehouse electronic mood music. Two years on, and Snaith showed himself, thankfully, as proponent of radical reinvention: Up in Flames fashioning a far-more unique, wildly alive electronic psychedelia steeped in the saturated pop of Cornelius and the giddy, doped-up delirium of the Flaming Lips. This record's artistic success trigged a propensity for reinvention that stuck with Snaith throughout his career: his albums —released, thereafter, under the name Caribou— never turning the same trick twice.

11
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The Dears 'No Cities Left' (2003)

The Dears 'No Cities Left' (2003)
The Dears 'No Cities Left' (2003). Maplemusic

Murray Lightburn grew up the Son of a Preacher, but, as teenager, he found his own church: rock'n'roll. In reverie to the glorious grandeur of Spiritualized and the politicized melodramas of The Smiths, Lightburn dares to dream big, and his band, The Dears, make a grandiose debut with a misanthropic concept-record called The End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story. For his second LP, Lightburn decides to ramps things up further: No Cities Left calling for louder guitars, a bigger orchestra, a more colossal wall-of-sound. This song-cycle surveys the state of the post-September-11 globe and foretells man's imminent demise; its bleak-hearted symphonies chronicling a post-apocalyptic wasteland that serves as the graveyard for fundamentalist religion. Buy from Amazon »

12
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Great Lake Swimmers 'Great Lake Swimmers' (2003)

Great Lake Swimmers 'Great Lake Swimmers' (2003)
Great Lake Swimmers 'Great Lake Swimmers' (2003). Weewerk

Long before Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses raided that trademarked tone of early My Morning Jacket LPs, Tony Dekker rolled tape in an abandoned Ontario grain silo, using that same natural reverb that douses a country croon in spectral echo. For Dekker, though, the tonal doesn't give rise to the thematic: his debut Great Lake Swimmers album speaks not of cricket-chirping summer nights on Southern porches, but winters bunkered down in Toronto, buried under tons of snow. The poignant "Moving Pictures Silent Films" equates winter hibernation to seasonal depression, and the ironically-sunny "I Will Never See the Sun" sing-songs the subway stops —"Spadina, St.George, Bay, and Yonge"— Dekker sees going to-and-fro work-days on deprived of daylight. Buy from Amazon »

13
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The Hidden Cameras 'The Smell of Our Own' (2003)

The Hidden Cameras 'The Smell of Our Own' (2003)
The Hidden Cameras 'The Smell of Our Own' (2003). Rough Trade

If Hidden Cameras' debut album was playing at a Sunday family dinner, no one would bat an eyelid. But, peer through The Smell of Our Own's artful border of naked male buttocks, and go beyond the happy façade of Belle & Sebastian-ish indie-pop, and you can hear Joel Gibb singing conversational topics not politely broached over the table. There's urolagnia, leather bars, cruising, and gay shame, but, more provocatively, there's the homoeroticism of transubstantiation, AIDS as God's loving gift, and the idea of a special place in hell as its own kind of heaven. Gibb uses religious language and church-friendly sounds —choral vocals, strings, organs— to assault the sacred; never moreso than when he leads the gleeful cries of "Ban Marriage."

14
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Frog Eyes 'The Golden River' (2003)

Frog Eyes 'The Golden River' (2003)
Frog Eyes 'The Golden River' (2003). Absolutely Kosher

Continually asking why so-and-so isn't as famous/acclaimed/loved as so-and-so is a short-cut to unhappiness; it easier to accept the world the way it is than worry yourself sick over perceived musical injustices. Such said: for the love of God, why isn't Carey Mercer hailed from Victoria to Halifax and back as one of Canadian music's most untouchable geniuses? Why isn't his bawling, caterwauling yelp a national treasure? Why isn't The Golden River minted with classic status? The second Frog Eyes LP finds Mercer at his most whooping and wordy, hollering streams of arch-poetic lyrics over a clattering, crashing cacophony of guitars bent at odd angles and drums trying to punch holes in the wall. It's so good it hurts my head to think about it.

15
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Les Georges Leningrad 'Deux Hot Dogs Moutarde Chou' (2003)

Les Georges Leningrad 'Deux Hot Dogs Moutarde Chou' (2003)
Les Georges Leningrad 'Deux Hot Dogs Moutarde Chou' (2003). Alien8

When the media was getting all misty-eyed about the mythical Montréal Music Scene in the mid-'00s, few dared to mention performance-art post-punks Les Georges Leningrad, whose discordant noise and ironic theatricality were the antithesis of the earnest, epic guitar-rock the world was trawling for. Summoning the no-wave spirit of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, but disinterested in even approximating their 'togetherness,' the Québecois trio's riotous, ridiculous debut LP is a blessed mess. The trio take erratic snatches of staticky noise-guitar, screeched vocals of no fixed tune, clunking drum-machines, and blatantly atonal organ blurts and essentially throw them at each other; the resulting collisions bristling with provocation.

16
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The Unicorns 'Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?' (2003)

The Unicorns 'Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?' (2003)
The Unicorns 'Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?' (2003). Alien8

The Unicorns were Montréal's big indie break-out success before the Arcade Fire came along. In fact, the duo —old rural-BC high-school pals Alden Penner and Nick Thorburn— took their soon-to-be-obscenely-famous homies on their first major tour, right when their wildly-acclaimed debut LP, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?, was awash in buzz. The pair's one-and-only album was defined by "I Was Born a Unicorn," an anthem both self-conscious and eerily accurate. Here, the ever-squabbling pair bicker mid-song —"you say I'm doing it wrong..."/"you are doing it wrong!"— before suggesting that, if they stop believing in each other, The Unicorns will cease to be. A year later, Thorburn and Penner parted amidst much acrimony.

17
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Arcade Fire 'Funeral' (2004)

Arcade Fire 'Funeral' (2004)
Arcade Fire 'Funeral' (2004). Merge

Maybe you've heard of them. That outfit who took death and made it into life, who took grief and made it celebration, who took pain personal and made it joy universal. That crew who went from total obscurity to bonafide celebrity in a blink, becoming one of the world's biggest bands in the space of 48 minutes. That band that, via the glittering glow of their nascent stardom, shone a little extra light on Merge Records, on Montréal, on Wolf Parade. That force whose rousing debut LP —all choruses of massed vocals, massive crescendos, bashed pianos, and frenetic, we're-all-going-to-die-so-let's-live-right-now! energy— became an astonishing commercial success due only to artist endeavor, not music-biz machinations. They're called Arcade Fire.

18
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Deep Dark United 'Ancient' (2004)

Deep Dark United 'Ancient' (2004)
Deep Dark United 'Ancient' (2004). Blocks Recording Club

Before Owen Pallett shined a light on the Alex Lukashevsky songbook on the 2008 Final Fantasy EP Plays to Please, Lukashevsky was very much of a man of the musical shadows. The Deep Dark United band-leader has a delicious sense of the perverse, not just in his words, but the way he employs them in song. Ancient is an album of manic, mutant, dizzyingly-complex compositions steeped in free-jazz yet played with exacting precision, not ad-hoc improvisation. As drums, woodwinds, and organs jostle, there's a sense of confusion at play; feeling, at varying moments, like you're trapped in a devilish parlor-game, lost in a teeming crowd, or spinning around in a hall of mirrors. It's difficult listening that's paradoxically fun to listen to.

19
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The Organ 'Grab That Gun' (2004)

The Organ 'Grab That Gun' (2004)
The Organ 'Grab That Gun' (2004). Mint

Years after their demise, Canadian ladies The Organ live on just as much through their connection to television's The L Word as via their sole album. Yet, Grab That Gun still sounds really great; a mid-paced rock record that slowly reveals its true charms. On first blush, the LP plays like some Female Interpol, minus the bluster; the quintet delivering a dry, sexless set of recycled Cure/Echo riffs with a restrained, serious demeanour. Yet, repeated listens let the reticent melodies soak into your skin. And, studying the half-vague lyrics of Katie Sketch —especially stand-out track "Basement Band Song," an understated anthem of small-town teenaged tedium and earnest rock-dreams— reveals a band in thrall to the very idea of being A Band.

20
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Black Mountain 'Black Mountain' (2005)

Black Mountain 'Black Mountain' (2005)
Black Mountain 'Black Mountain' (2005). Jagjaguwar
Black Mountain were born in a dream. Stephen McBean had been gigging for years around Vancouver as Jerk with a Bomb, but, one night, he dreamt he had a band called Black Mountain. Rather than look a gift horse in the mouth, McBean took up his subconscious's awesome offer and formed the actual band. Black Mountain's debut LP attempted to live up to the band-name: delivering a moody, groovy, lovely stoner-psych rush that liberally copped licks from the Velvet Underground, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, and Black Sabbath, and came house in Black Album-esque artwork. McBean didn't stop there, either, assembling the Black Mountain Army; sister outfits Pink Mountaintops, Blood Meridian, and Ladyhawk all marching under the one proud-to-rock banner.

21
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Wolf Parade 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' (2005)

Wolf Parade 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' (2005)
Wolf Parade 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' (2005). Sub Pop

Wolf Parade were lucky to deliver their debut LP right when Montréal had suddenly become the center of the musical world. Released right after Wolf Parade had finished up a stint opening for their suddenly-obscenely-famous friends Arcade Fire, Apologies to the Queen Mary found instant acclaim and fandom en masse. Still, the album felt less like a singular work than an ongoing duel: co-songwriters Dan 'Handsome Furs' Boeckner and Spencer 'Sunset Rubdown' Krug set against each other in a song-by-song, back-and-forth battle. Given Krug delivered all the album's best cuts ("You Are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son," "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts," "I'll Believe in Anything,") he —and Canadian rock— proved the big winner.

22
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Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band 'Horses in the Sky' (2005)

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band 'Horses in the Sky' (2005)
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band 'Horses in the Sky' (2005). Constellation

When I play this LP —play it really, really loud, so that it's squeezing my chest and rattling by ribs and making my heart beat; play it loud and wail along with all the album's gloriously raw, hoarse, filled-with-the-spirit singing— I could hardly imagine any Canadians have ever dared make a greater album. The fourth record for Godspeed You! Black Emperor successors Silver Mt. Zion (billed, here, as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band) defiantly throws off the shackles of instrumentalism: its symphonies of decay punctuated by a lusty chorus caroling in throaty, hearty, sobbing wails. Made in defiance to the essential misanthropy of American belligerence, Horses in the Sky thrusts its humanity in your face, unafraid.

23
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Final Fantasy 'He Poos Clouds' (2006)

Final Fantasy 'He Poos Clouds' (2006)
Final Fantasy 'He Poos Clouds' (2006). Tomlab

A Toronto classical-violinist turned inspired one-man-band, Owen Pallett had his finger in many musical pies in the '00s, playing on records by Arcade Fire, the Hidden Cameras, Stars, Republic of Safety, Holy Fuck, Fucked Up, Montag, Picastro, Great Lake Swimmers, Royal City, Gentleman Reg, Immaculate Machine, and probably piles more I've forgotten. He also found time to dish up two LPs and three EPs of wondrous, finely-wrought orchestral-pop as Final Fantasy, showing a conceptual bent, a complex sense of humor, and a fondness for wedding them together. His Polaris Prize-winning second record, He Poos Clouds, wholly embodies this: a Dungeons & Dragons-themed song-cycle whose subjects include coke-blowing hipsters and Toronto gentrification.

24
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Destroyer 'Destroyer's Rubies' (2006)

Destroyer 'Destroyer's Rubies' (2006)
Destroyer 'Destroyer's Rubies' (2006). Merge
The lyrical bent of Daniel Bejar is the gift that keeps on giving for devoted Destroyer fans. The genius-ish songsmith plays elaborate games, littering strings of interconnected, self-referential, mythology-authoring words across his entire discography. Destroyer's Rubies is the ultimate exemplar of Bejar's wordy ways; the culmination of a career's poetic thinking in a host of stupendously-realized, immaculately-delivered pop-songs. Destroyer's Rubies is, in turn, the most definitive Destroyer disc: a glittering crystalizing of every Bejar tic —literary lyrical texts, over-the-top anthemicism, hysterical Bowie-esque falsetto-ing, camp piano, searing guitar solos— in the form of an unstoppable, five-star classic.

25
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Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton 'Knives Don't Have Your Back' (2006)

Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton 'Knives Don't Have Your Back' (2006)
Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton 'Knives Don't Have Your Back' (2006). Last Gang

"Sometimes you just need to be sad" is how Emily Haines explains taking time away from Metric's juggernaut to make an LP of slow, strange, stark-naked piano-ballads. Written in the wake of the death of her father, poet and jazz collaborateur Paul Haines, this suite of songs wallows in sadness, but never forsakes its smartness. It doesn't just thumb its nose at fans up Metric's pogo-friendly pop-rock, but at the medical community: "Doctor Blind" mocking the quack scribbling prescriptions in the face of loss; "Winning" a snarky rebellion against the culture of positivity and its attempts to "fix" whatever unfixable emotion may ail you. Haines finds both humor and tragedy in grief, and her articulation of both makes Knives immensely moving.

26
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The Luyas 'Faker Death' (2007)

The Luyas 'Faker Death' (2007)
The Luyas 'Faker Death' (2007). Pome

Despite a bonafide Arcade Fire connection, The Luyas have thus far slipped through the cracks, the world strangely unmoved by the impressive Faker Death. Aided by members of Bell Orchestre, Jessie Stein takes her sad-girl songs (sung in a Julie Doiron-ish whimper) and puts them in strange places. There's distorted guitar squalls set against the hot breath of French horn, tiny tuned percussion played off stumbling drums, and a constant inventiveness that suggests things could head anywhere. This creates an odd kind of magic, half-reminiscent of other odd, unique figures of the fringes: reclusive Swedish chanteuse Stina Nordenstam, Japanese psych-pop sweethearts Tenniscoats, and forgotten '90s post-rock-ish patternists the Sonora Pine.

27
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Miracle Fortress 'Five Roses' (2007)

Miracle Fortress 'Five Roses' (2007)
Miracle Fortress 'Five Roses' (2007). Secret City
For all its love for brightly-colored psychedelia —from '60s minstrels through to '90s Elephant 6-ers— Five Roses is very much an album of the '00s. As in: it was recorded solely by Graham Van Pelt, at home, yet it sounds staggering, epic, dazzling; an album balancing tiny, intimate details with broad, sweeping grandeur. In truth, Van Pelt shows himself to be more gifted as producer than as songwriter. Sure, there's plenty of fine pop-songs herein, but the intricate, headphone-friendly arrangements are where the genius is: "Blasphemy"'s outro balancing walls upon walls of white noise and singing, pinging keytone in an endlessly evolving sonic flurry. The overall effect is cough medicine-esque: sweet, syrupy, and prone to making you woozy.

28
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Sunset Rubdown 'Random Spirit Lover' (2007)

Sunset Rubdown 'Random Spirit Lover' (2007)
Sunset Rubdown 'Random Spirit Lover' (2007). Jagjaguwar

Random Spirit Lover is an album bristling with its own kinetic energy, its songs mad tangles of off-kilter guitars, smashed keyboards, and complex, prolix lyrics. It's the songwriting work of Spencer Krug —perhaps known, in other parts, as Frog Eyes protégé turned Wolf Parade celebrity— who, after mounting 2006's mighty Shut Up I'm Dreaming, dared dream bigger, crazier. From the moment opener "The Mending of the Gown" comes on like a freight-train —Krug barking "it was the tender mending of this slender gown that brought me bending to the ground" like phonetic percussion— Random Spirit Lover is a wild, rambunctious ride, a thousand sounds and a million ideas jostling for a place in your brain.

29
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Sandro Perri 'Tiny Mirrors' (2007)

Sandro Perri 'Tiny Mirrors' (2007)
Sandro Perri 'Tiny Mirrors' (2007). Constellation

On a Canadian music-for-kids compile called See You on the Moon!, Sandro Perri's Glissandro 70 project offered "Voices Are Your Best Friend," a chirpy ode to the glories of speaking up, being heard, and singing loud. It stood as a symbolic moment for Perri: before that, as Polmo Polpo, he'd made instrumental process music; thereafter, he'd reinvent himself as a bruised, tender troubadour. Taking queues from tragic, jazz-tinged folkies Tim Hardin and Tim Buckley, Perri's first LP under his own name matched his honeyed croon to woody instrumentation tinged with a vintage tone equivalent to the bleed of sepia. Suitably enough, Tiny Mirrors is steeped in the melancholy haze of reminiscences; flickering grainy and ghostly like old home movies.

30
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Feist 'The Reminder' (2007)

Feist 'The Reminder' (2007)
Feist 'The Reminder' (2007). Arts & Crafts

Before she became the face that launched a million Nanos, Leslie Feist was very much a Canadian darling; having worked, firstly, with both electro pranksters Peaches and Gonzales, and then falling into that Broken Social Scene just prior to their breakout. 2004's Let it Die made Feist's name as a torch-singer with a touch for sprightly pop (see: "Mushaboom"). The Reminder proved even better; the dynamic set flipping from frail ballads to crunchy modern-rock and back. Its glittering highlight was, of course, "1234," a timeless pop-song —penned for Feist by Australian songstress Sally 'New Buffalo' Seltmann— that went nuclear upon its placement in an iPod ad. Thereafter, Feist was a star; but, really, she'd been a star all along.

31
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Laura Barrett 'Victory Garden' (2008)

Laura Barrett 'Victory Garden' (2008)
Laura Barrett 'Victory Garden' (2008). Paper Bag

Geek-chic pin-up Laura Barrett became known, as a solo artist, for one of the most absurd, unexpectedly-affecting musical moments you could ever imagine: a slow, sad, stirring, five-minute reading of "Weird Al" Yankovic's wacky Nirvana parody "Smells Like Nirvana," sung as a gentle lullaby over musical starlight of a plucked kalimba. The gesture said everything about the one-time Hidden Camera: it at once hilarious, heartbreaking, and strange. All these qualities are apparent on Barrett's debut solo LP, even if there's not a "Weird Al" cover to be seen. Matching tumbling kalimba patterns to broad, vibrant modern-orchestral parts, Victory Garden plays as the wild soundtrack to a sci-fi musical of the mind.

32
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Chad Vangaalen 'Soft Airplane' (2008)

Chad Vangaalen 'Soft Airplane' (2008)
Chad Vangaalen 'Soft Airplane' (2008). Sub Pop

For a strapping redhead from Stampede City, Chad VanGaalen is sure a tinkerer: an inquisitive mind who builds his own instruments, modifies his equipment, and records the results on an array of analog-tape recorders. His songs are ad-hoc miniatures obviously the product of a tangle of wires and a busy mind, and his albums are as messy as his basement: jumbles of fragmented songs tossed uneasily together. Although his third LP makes many of these same musical jumping from hesitant guitar strumming to zapping homemade electronics in a jarring manner, Soft Airplane is united by a singular lyrical focus: death. Here, VanGaalen delves into the postmortem experience, wondering, aloud, what really does happen upon that instant of expiration.

33
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Women 'Women' (2008)

Women 'Women' (2008)
Women 'Women' (2008). Jagjaguwar

If the name suggests a gang of dames, know this: these Women are four sweaty, hairy, dude-ish, music-nerd noiseniks from Calgary. On their eponymous debut, the combo crank out a set of short, sharp, shrill songs that can be either sweetly melodic and staunchly strident; and, at certain blessed moments, both. Taking their rhythmic cues from nasty British post-punk and cosmic German krautrock, Women repeat ragged riffs with a vengeance, sounding like they're trying to grind their guitar-parts into the ground. The LP's calling card is its fuzzed-out, over-saturated sound; the band captured live by "producer" Chad VanGaalen in his basement and backyard, playing directly onto an array of old ghetto-blasters and reel-to-reel recorders.

34
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Born Ruffians 'Red, Yellow and Blue' (2008)

Born Ruffians 'Red, Yellow and Blue' (2008)
Born Ruffians 'Red, Yellow and Blue' (2008). Warp

Bonus Canadian rock history tid-bit: Born Ruffians frontman Luke LaLonde's dad played in a hard-rock band called Wireless in the late-'70s. And they toured with Rush! Dad may be disappointed in the lack of Peartian percussion on Born Ruffians' debut album; which forsakes ponderous drum solos in favor of delivering a ridiculous, calamitous, crazy-good indie-rock disc you can dance up a storm to. Reminiscent of the herky-jerky hee-hawing of early Modest Mouse, the razor-wire dynamics of The Pixies, and the bizarro bomp of forgotten '90s kooks Guv'ner, Red, Yellow and Blue manages to funnel its joyous, youthful exuberance into a host of sharply-written, tightly-played tunes. And, best of all, it sounds blessedly not-self-conscious-at-all.

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Japandroids 'Post-Nothing' (2009)

Japandroids 'Post-Nothing' (2009)
Japandroids 'Post-Nothing' (2009). Polyvinyl

When Japandroids started kicking out the jams at some rehearsal room at the University of Victoria, their goal was to make their two-piece sound like a five-piece. Playing insanely loud and rocking out without irony was, in a greater sense, a way of going back to their roots; guitarist/vocalist Brian King and drummer/vocalist David Prowse wanting to recapture the adolescent thrills of being a teenager in the garage. Post-Nothing's title hints at that conceptual Year Zero, and its songs don't dodge youthful exuberance; "Young Hearts Spark Fire" and "Wet Hair" fist-pumping, life-affirming, amp-rattling anthems about tearing up your humdrum small-town, and dreaming of escaping via the pure power of rock'n'roll.

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The Rural Alberta Advantage 'Hometowns' (2009)

The Rural Alberta Advantage 'Hometowns' (2009)
The Rural Alberta Advantage 'Hometowns' (2009). Saddle Creek

The name doesn't lie: Nils Edenloff truly grew up on farmland in far-flung Northern Alberta. He spent his first 25 years there before moving to Toronto. Once in the city, he found a floodtide of memories from his rural childhood overwhelming him. Soon enough, they became songs, strummed hard on acoustic guitar and wailed in a hoarse-throated voice in serious debt to Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum. Edenloff gave them Albertan names like "The Deathbridge in Lethbridge," "Frank, AB," and "Edmonton," and described them as being "about summers in the Rockies and winters on the farm, ice breakups in the spring time and the oil boom's charm." They're inevitably about Hometowns, too, and your inability to escape them, no matter how far you go.

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Jordaan Mason and the Horse Museum 'Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head' (2009)

Jordaan Mason and the Horse Museum 'Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head' (2009)
Jordaan Mason and the Horse Museum 'Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head' (2009). Screech Owl

By the end of the '00s, the rise of the blogosphere made remaining unknown an impossibility, yet Toronto songsmith Jordaan Mason's electric debut LP was somehow overlooked and underhyped. A thematically-taught suite of "semi-illiterate songs about sex and sickness and the decline of (stupid f**king) western civilization," Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head is a work of uneasy listening; Mason's bewailed, bawdily-strummed, grotesquely-confessional folksongs spilling like tortured bloodletting from an open emotional wound. With his raw caterwauling backed by a baroque nine-piece band of cardboard-box drums, saloon piano, musical saw, marching-band horns, and drunken choristers, the debt to Neutral Milk Hotel is steep, but not insurmountable.

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Handsome Furs 'Face Control' (2009)

Handsome Furs 'Face Control' (2009)
Handsome Furs 'Face Control' (2009). Sub Pop

Dan Boeckner was not only the lesser of Wolf Parade's twin songwriters, but had the lesser side-project, too; Spencer Krug's most awesome Sunset Rubdown looming over Handsome Furs' spotty 2007 debut, Plague Park. Yet, with their impressive second record, Face Control, Boeckner and wife Alexei Perry step out of those shadows. Inspired by a trip to Russia, the Furs authored an album as travelogue, the singular narrative headipedng due East and not looking back. Like all good road-trips, the journey is more symbolic than literal. As each post-punk-ish tune grows colder, blunter, and more desperate —vocals hoarse, guitars noisy scrawl, drum machines pounding— the pair venture ever deeper into the dark heart of Putin's post-Soviet Republic.

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Clues 'Clues' (2009)

Clues 'Clues' (2009)
Clues 'Clues' (2009). Constellation

Six years after finding fame as one of The Unicorns' twin frontmen, Alden Penner returned with Clues; his disinterest in both hype and spotlight obvious in the band's music. Helmed by Penner and former Arcade Fire hand Brendan Reed, Clues debuted with a dense, dark, distorted disc whose shadowy, labyrinthine songs are shrouded in a foggy recording. Vaguely reminiscent of Blonde Redhead or late-period Fugazi, Clues bore no resemblance to The Unicorns, and seemed ill-suited —somewhat deliberately— to the blogospheric era. Disinterested in delivering music of immediate gratification, the Clues LP creates a state of semi-confusion that rewards persistence and patience, revealing its varied charms only to those who return for repeat listens.

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Dead Man's Bones 'Dead Man's Bones' (2009)

Dead Man's Bones 'Dead Man's Bones' (2009)
Dead Man's Bones 'Dead Man's Bones' (2009). Anti-
Few recognized Dead Man's Bones as being Canadian upon their debut's release. After all, the band —a project for actorly beefcakes Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields— hail from everyone's favorite mythical fantasyland, Hollywood, not any place as unspectacular as rural Ontario (where both, y'know, grew up). Though Gosling is obscenely famous, this record is anything but a slumming actor's transparent vanity project. Instead, it's an unexpectedly artistic, genuinely kooky, weirdly produced concept-album about a tragic love between, um, a vampire and a ghost. The tale is told via monster-movie tropes, Tom Waits-ish junkyard cabaret, mutant '50s doo-wop, and a kids' choir; Gosling, like any good method actor, happily receding behind the material.