This list should probably include albums like The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga (even if her tracks sound like ABBA retreads, it’s about time somebody injected shock back into pop) and Blueprint 3 by Jay-Z (Empire State of mind is classy stuff, Yankees fan or not). But it won’t. There’s always enough worthy Canadian music to promote without having to venture south or overseas. So this list is entirely homegrown.
1 - The Arkells, Jackson Square (Dine Alone)
This album was actually released late in 2008, but few paid attention until this year when the singles Oh the Boss is Coming and The Ballad of Hugo Chavez made the rock airwaves. This is an extraordinary debut album by the Hamilton-based band that merges catchy, high-energy hooks with intelligent lyrics. Tracks like Champagne Socialist and John Lennon in 67 leave the Arkells a cut above everyone else right now. And a year of steady touring has forged a fiery live act that will win over any audience.
2. Alexisonfire, Old Crows/Young Cardinals (Dine Alone)
Alexisonfire had already demonstrated strong instrumental chops and a strong sense of lyrical purpose. All it needed was to tone down the screamo vocals and delve into their rock roots. They did all this and more on their fourth album. It all comes together on tracks like The Northern, where the band incorporates the gospel standard Roll Jordan Roll into the chorus, and Emerald Street, where George Pettit shows a journalist’s eye for composition.
3. LeE HARVeY OsMOND, Quiet Evil (Latent)
A collective effort with representation from the Cowboy Junkies, the Skydiggers and Junkhouse that sprang from a Michael Timmins project to musically chronicle the assassination of JFK. The group accomplishes the task in brilliant form in the track Parkland, named after the Dallas hospital where the president was pronounced dead. Frontman Tom Wilson describes this deeply dark, sometimes frightening, music as “acid folk.” It fits.
4. Metric, Fantasies (Metric Music)
This album would make the list simply for asking “would you rather be The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” But there are 10 solid tracks on this album, including Help I’m Alive, and Emily Haines’ songwriting keeps getting stronger. It’s difficult to understand how this album didn’t win the Polaris Prize. Metric, it seems, has become too popular for the indie-addled judges.
5. Tragically Hip, We are the Same (Universal)
We should never take this band for granted. After more than 20 years of recording the truest form of Canadian rock in existence, the Hip pulls together one of their most ambitious projects to date. And all of the tracks fit in comfortably with the rest of the band’s incredible catalogue.