Published Feb 10, 2022
The music industry always slows down significantly over the holidays — but by the time February rolls around, the release calendar is humming once again. That means there are a lot of new albums and EPs to catch up on, including standout releases from ’00s heroes Animal Collective and Billy Talent, the latest masterpieces from of-the-moment stars Mitski and the Weeknd, and underground releases from rising Canadian talent.
Dig into it all below, and hear all the highlights in our Spotify playlist, updated monthly.
After the ’00s-defining quartet undeniably lost steam in the 2010s, latest offering Time Skiffs signals that, after all this time, traces remain of Animal Collective’s ability to produce groundbreaking pop experimentalism. Returning to their signature twinkling arpeggiated synths on the bulk of the record’s tracks, the band serve up some of the most accessible and least jarring tunes in over a decade. Learn more with our full album review.
Standout track: “Cherokee”
Avey Tare’s intermittent yelping, once omnipresent, is traded out for the oft-eccentric vocalist’s most subdued singing to date, especially on mid-album trip “Cherokee,” a euphoric, cheery wade into welcoming waters.
Sharp Left Turns
(24 Hour Collision)
The second EP from the Vancouver post-punk quartet finds them triumphantly twisting the sounds of Preoccupations, Fugazi and early Interpol. In contrast to the more cerebral post-punk making waves from across the pond, Aversions deliver a take on the genre’s earliest touchpoints that delivers on the excitement provided by its title.
Standout track: “Famous Last Lines”
Syncopated guitars and hollered vocals drive an urging, engaging number that starts off strong and only picks up steam through to its riveting conclusion.
THE WINTER MISSION
THE WINTER MISSION, the first solo album from the Barr Brothers vocalist since 2008, is home to instrumental soundscapes traversing interworldly planes in search of answers to questions posed by recurring patterns and psychedelic adventures. Barr transcends genre on his latest album, coasting through folk, blues, garage, experimental and intersecting genres with spellbinding skill.
Standout track: “ANCIENT CALENDARS”
This long-form improvisational 12-string guitar piece sonically explores the Mayan astronomical calendar, which lasts 2160 years — a recurring number that Barr encounters throughout the album.
Nearly 20 years after their self-titled major label debut, Billy Talent time travel through the last 40 years of rock and punk, trying their hand at everything from Black Flag punk to Rush-style prog. Thanks to their inimitable style driven by Ben Kowalewicz’s distinctive vocals and Ian D’Sa’s virtuosic guitars, no matter what era they’re tackling, they always sound like Billy Talent. Learn more in our cover story.
Standout track: “Reactor”
Billy Talent have been tackling urgent political issues their whole careers, and “Reactor” is the latest rallying cry calling for upheaval and solidarity against the bad actors targeting society’s most vulnerable.
On aubades, Jean-Michel Blais continues to push his capabilities and what modern classical music can be while bringing a fresh take on old stories, styles and serenades, marking his first foray into writing for an ensemble. Instruments were recorded close to the microphones, giving recordings the quality of being in the room, feeling the energy come to life, lift off and float away. Learn more in our full album review.
Standout track: “murmures”
“murmures” unfolds with arpeggiating keys before being joined by gentle, wistful strings and woodwinds. Flutes eventually enter, uniting in the song’s sway, and by its end, the instruments’ wavering rhythms and melodies have grown so wonderfully hypnotic and entwined they’ll be dancing through heads for days.
Though Bonobo excels at many elements of production, such as stitching together the perfect loop or drum beat, he remains unchallenged when it comes to his ability to create organic sound that is at once full-bodied, warm and filled with textures from around the world.
Standout track: “Otomo” (feat. O’Flynn)
With little access to a real dance floor, Bonobo somehow manages to bottle the magic of a rave through its bass-heavy breakdown and pulsating energy, with samples of a Bulgarian choir elevating the dance track to anthemic proportions.
After steadily pushing towards longer drum-less, ambient forms to close the last decade, Burial now explores that compositional mindset at length with the cinematic Antidawn. While organs and synths occasionally create a mood, a battery of vocal samples — some singing, others pleading, declaring — is what guides the EP’s five tracks.
Standout track: “Shadow Paradise”
A steady organ and wistful samples conjure a pastoral scene, drifting in and out of view before a trip through new wave purgatory to face the dying light of a setting sun.
No one covers a song quite like Chan Marshall. As Cat Power, Marshall has released three albums of covers, each a reminder that no song belongs to any one person. Cat Power doesn’t cover songs so much as subsume them, often dismantling their most recognizable parts and building something wholly new from the pieces. Adding original lyrics and finding new depths of feeling — or creating entirely new ones, painting blues so rich they spill into black — Covers is Marshall’s most wide-ranging and colourfully constructed collection yet, more proof of the power in a shared song.
Standout track: “Here Comes a Regular”
A piano-led rendition of the Replacements’ 1985 tribute to the lonely and bent, Cat Power’s interpretation is stop-you-dead, knock-you-back beautiful, imbuing an already-sad song with an ache that hurts to look at dead on. Sung through a watery vocal effect and accented by glittering acoustic guitar, Marshall manages, somehow, to transcend a classic.
(Glo Gang / RBC)
Press play on 4NEM and you’ll feel like it’s 2012 again, as the exultant production of opener “Bitch Where” gives way to the much more menacing brass of “Tuxedo.” From there, Keef packs the war chest with strong production (the dizzying snares of “See Through” pack a punch), wonderfully expressive raps and plenty of wit.
Standout track: “Hurry B4 the Gate Close”
Keef floats on a playful single verse with lines like, “I was on the block like a Lego,” “With the Drac’, no PND,” and, “At the roundtable ’bout to make a toast / With the bread, we can make toast / ‘So what you eat?’ bitch, I ate toast / We got toast, we got bankroll.”
Comeback Kid’s latest album amalgamates their hook-heavy strengths with a seasoned approach to songwriting that comes with being a band for nearly two decades. Heavy Steps is filled with gigantic breakdowns, crunchy palm-muted riffs, and gang vocals that will entice longtime fans of the band. Learn more with our full review.
Standout track: “Dead on the Fence”
Comeback Kid are flexing every muscle here, with one of the most pummelling breakdowns on the record, verses with a groove, and Andrew Neufeld demonstrating why he’s still one of the best hardcore vocalists after all these years.
(Boom / Country Chain Chapel)
Gaetano “Guy” Valentini dedicated most of his adult life to building North America’s largest rooster monument: a museum/barbershop in the East Gwillimbury, ON, community of Holland Landing. His nephew, Los Angeles-based musician Nick Dorian, dedicated his third album to illuminating the nuances of the unlikely story with an eclectic mix of loose-limbed indie rock.
Standout track: “Seahorse Valley 1”
This seven-minute, rhythmically propellant slow-burn enfolds listeners into its meditative groove pocket, forcing the runtime to blissfully fade out in glitchy jam abyss.
With contributions from Julia Holter, Bon Iver, Kelsey Lu, Blood Orange, Jeremy Dutcher, Arca and more, Keyboard Fantasies Reimagined finds a new generation of experimentalists communing with a piece of their musical DNA. The record features a wide array of new textures and emotions, teasing even more life from Glenn-Copeland’s seminal, endlessly alive Keyboard Fantasies. Copeland’s renaissance in recent years has been heartwarming to behold, and Keyboard Fantasies Reimagined feels like the much-deserved icing on the cake — it proves that there will always be more to find in his music.
Standout track: “Ever New (Reworked by Bon Iver and Flock of Dimes)”
Taking one of Glenn-Copeland’s most beautiful songs and dissolving it like sugar in the rain, Bon Iver and Flock of Dimes’ rendition adds endless, diaphanous layers of sound to this timeless ode to rebirth. It melts and reforms and mutates constantly over its six and a half minutes, floating like dandelion seeds in the wind.
Toronto-based trio jackie make fairly straightforward rock with traces of folk, but the six no-nonsense tunes on Hey Angel are elevated by sharp pop hooks and singer-guitarist Jackie Mohr’s truly exceptional voice. Opening track “My Best Years” begins the EP by cribbing a line directly from Fleetwood Mac — “I’ve been afraid of changing” — which fits perfectly with her husky, Nicks-ian croon. But she also shows off a feather-light airiness on the rootsy “Right This Time (Don’t Wanna Be)” and a cloud-scraping yowl when she jumps up an octave on the lovelorn ballad “Leaving Tomorrow – Figure It Out.”
Standout track: “Filter”
A two-part epic in four minutes, “Filter” begins as a simple strummer with folk noir atmosphere. It’s pretty, but it really gets going in the second half, when it breaks down with Mohr scatting a bluesy vocal riff that builds to a grand, cinematic crescendo.
Lizzy & the Fanatics
On their first entirely francophone EP, Montreal’s Lizzy & the Fanatics — Lysanne Picard with Amélie Laplante, Ella Chatfield-Stiehler and Claire Lowen — wax nostalgic, paying tribute to the way that we embellish memory. Their dream pop likewise recalls the floating sonic chimeras of Cocteau Twins, as well as QuéPop contemporaries like Vanille.
Standout track: “East Angus 1998”
Picard stitches the given era and location into a viable facsimile from your own archives, bottling sunshine and blue skies with a jangly, effects-drenched guitar hook.
After Vincent Roberge’s debut album earned attention from the Félix Awards and Polaris Music Prize, his second album as Les Louanges takes the project’s sound in a faster-paced, new wave-influenced direction, driving off course and taking listeners on a wild ride over the course of 15 adventurous tracks. Learn more with our full review.
Standout track: “Chaussée”
The song’s infectious pace heralds Les Louanges’s shift from funk grooves to melodic new wave while maintaining the warm and honest tone that made initial songs so relatable.
Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo
(Made It to Friday)
Beyond was inspired by a time of personal strife, as Peach Luffe leader Jong Lee went through the breakup of a long-term relationship, experienced a crisis of confidence, and tried to get permanent residency in Canada. But you’d never know it from hearing these four songs, which are a candy shop of honeyed pop melodies and synthesizer confectionary. Even when Lee sings about about post-breakup malaise on closer “Lights,” bubbly electronic textures and lyrical references to Freezies make it sweet rather than salty.
Standout track: “Beyond”
The EP’s opening title track is pure summer — from the swaggering chillwave beat to the sun-kissed harmonies to lyrics that directly reference “memories made in the summer heat.” With synth strings and flourishes of harp, it’s a blissful patchwork of textures.
Balens Cho (Hot Candles)
The follow-up to 2021’s acclaimed Pray for Haiti burns as bright as its predecessor, as the Haitian-American artist’s poetics of challenge and change — for himself, relatives and his home country — are interspersed by looming U.S. imperial influence. Further heat is drawn from a Canadian connection in the form of four beats from Montreal producer Nicholas Craven.
Standout track: “Self Luh”
Every line is quotable, but Mach’s message is best summed up as follows: “All this talk of securing bags is hysterical / You are the bag, you gon’ stay rich if you take care of you.”
Mitski channelled the burnout she endured from 2018’s Be the Cowboy into follow-up Laurel Hell, which dresses up the themes of a standard Mitski song — yearning, belonging, fear, love — in flashy attire, all while oozing vulnerability. Continuing down the path that Be the Cowboy paved, Laurel Hell is composed of vignette-like songs driven by the sounds of disco and pop. Learn more with our full review.
Standout track: “Stay Soft”
Peppy vocals bend like a swerving car over disco beats, while the singer-songwriter laments about giving love to someone who can’t give it back, placing those numbing and bitter emotions on a dance floor.
Forfolks is a wonderfully intimate look at the accomplished guitarist’s stylistic breadth, connections to the past, and penchant for experimentation in the present. Its eight compositions — a take on Thelonious Monk, a reworking of Tortoise/Isotope 217 among them — capture a feeling of closeness with every palpable reach for the pedalboard and click of a stompbox.
Standout track: “Excess Success”
With cascading harmonics and a three-note groove as guides, Parker deftly layers, loops, phases and freezes his way through nearly 11 meditative minutes of solo guitar exploration.
Marissa Paternoster has been the dark star of New Jersey’s Screaming Females for nearly two decades, but Peace Meter sees her striking out on her own for the first time. Bringing her unmistakable voice and inventive guitar playing to a set of songs that sparkle and dance where her band tends to pummel and thrash, Peace Meter finds Paternoster unearthing new shades in her songwriting and centring her remarkable vibrato. Traversing synthpop, acoustic balladry and blues-soaked country, Peace Meter reveals Paternoster in myriad new lights.
Standout track: “I Lost You”
While Peace Meter wraps Paternoster’s voice in a swath of new sounds, there’s nothing else quite like “I Lost You.” A cello-flecked piece of gritty synthpop, the song shimmers like oil on water before surging into waves of guitar and sawing strings. And there are few lyrics sung this year quite as heartbreaking as its closing refrain: “I guess it’s sad that I missed you.”
The Pierce Kingans
Achieving Inner Pierce
(Boat Dreams from the Hill)
Released on December 31, Achieving Inner Pierce is Vancouver band the Pierce Kingans’ fifth EP of 2021 (and 14th EP overall) — all of which have beyond-corny titles like Nobel Pierce Prize and Pierceful Protest. With classic garage pop songwriting and a weird, wobbly sense of surreality, the Pierce Kingans maintain extremely impressive levels of both quality and quantity. Look for some of these songs to reappear on a planned 2-CD comp of highlights from across the 14 EPs.
Standout track: “Wasn’t Promising”
Strange harmonies and psychedelic synths are smeared across a jangly pop ditty, nearly disguising the song’s lovely — and quite profound — lyrical observations: “We only get one shot at this / Just a trip around home Earth / The significance of your birth / Is measured on how much you’re worth / Or maybe not.”
While the stories told within Few Good Things are the album’s focal point, the musicianship that accompanies it matches and at times even exceeds it. Instrumentals range from soulful maximalism to brute minimalism, while Saba’s rapping is as tight as ever, finding precise pockets and balancing old-school rhyme schemes with palatable, new-school flows. Learn more with our full album review.
Standout track: “2012” (feat. Day Wave)
Saba tales a fond look back on the simplicity of high-school life, narrating vignettes about his youth while simultaneously letting go of that part of his life as he moves onto bigger and better things.
Michael Di Gennaro
On SICK!, Earl Sweatshirt exhibits a creative clarity his music has eschewed in recent years. This lucidity is at the core of SICK!, driving momentum for Earl’s navigation of present-day pitfalls, viral or otherwise. Resilience, and an eye on a route forward, manifest even in the smallest observations of Earl’s poetry — pandemic uncertainties be damned. Learn more with our full review.
Standout track: “Tabula Rasa” (feat. Armand Hammer)
Over twinkling piano, Earl Sweatshirt and the duo of Billy Woods and Elucid prove to be an indelible threesome through their winding verses of perception and experience.
At a time when “reconciliation” is the word on so many lips, Tanya Tagaq’s verses leave no room for settler guilt or empty bureaucratic gestures. Above all, she speaks to and for Indigenous children who have been scarred by the same violence that has scarred her, employing steady synthetic rhythms and lucid electronic soundscapes to amplify her poetic prowess. Learn more with our full review.
Standout track: “Tongues”
“You can’t have my tongue,” Tagaq repeats again and again on the title track, emphasizing the resilience of Indigenous voices despite all that has attempted to silence them.
On previous albums, it was crucial that whatever whittling occurred to arrive at something new and pristine remained invisible to the audience. But here, on FKA twigs’ first-ever mixtape, that process is on full display, unfolding in the music. Openness to musical collaborators seems vital to the ethos of CAPRISONGS. Learn more with our full review.
Standout track: “oh my love”
Bookended by tender recordings of friends, “oh my love” contains both slow-dripping sensuality and playground-like chanting, epitomizing the adventurous blends that FKA twigs executes across the mixtape.
Leif Vollebekk has barely been able to tour through his underrated 2019 album New Ways, though he will continue to try later this year. Until then, this collection of live recordings — most of which were captured during those final pre-pandemic months — serves as a reminder that there’s zero studio magic involved in polishing Vollebekk’s sturdy folk rock tracks, and increases excitement for the eventual rest of the dates.
Standout track: “Blood Brother – Live at KCRW”
This peppy deep cut is elevated by some playful guitar ad-libs, and there’s something serendipitous about Vollebekk’s delivery of the prescient lyric “My life is on the radio / They’re saying it’s a dream.”
It’s rare to be able to acknowledge the presence of an all-time great while they’re still in their prime, but when an artist has made it as apparent as the Weeknd has, it becomes impossible to ignore. The extremely ambitious Dawn FM uses elements of R&B, hip-hop, disco, new wave, electropop and synthpop in a way that feels incredibly futuristic while being drenched in ’80s nostalgia. Learn more with our full review.
Standout track: “Out of Time”
With its incredibly infectiously funky and dreamlike instrumental, “Out of Time” is immediately endearing, becoming even more so as Tesfaye demonstrates a refreshing level of growth and introspection on this immensely enjoyable ’80s R&B throwback.
Girls in Purgatory (Full Moon Edition)
Since she began sharing freestyle snippets from her bedroom in Queens, NY, in 2019, Julia Wolf has become a champion for shy girls with resting bitch faces everywhere. Drawing equally from rap’s accentuation of flow and indie pop’s stacked harmonies, the anthemic emphasis is always on her hard-hitting eloquence.
Standout track: “Bottle of Advil”
Wolf swallows her signature soft-spoken bravado to show a more subdued side, ruminating on self-doubt with acoustic strums and the candy coating of her wistful, breathy delivery.
Listen to all of these standout tracks in our Spotify playlist: