2015 was a big year for Canadian music, both on the charts and on our playlists (though those often overlapped). The Weeknd rose from the underground to emerge as a major pop presence, while Justin Bieber successfully orchestrated the comeback everyone saw coming but no one could resist, even your friends who never would have fucked with Justin Bieber before this year. Drake, meanwhile... well, Drake was Drake.
It was a big year for Canadian pop, a big year for Toronto hip-hop and R&B, and a fantastic year for strong female voices. That's all well represented on the list below (and, like last year, each artist is limited to one song each), but listen through and you'll also hear Victoria post-punk, noise-rock from Winnipeg and Gainsbourgian electro-psych in French. Which is to say this list doesn't leave anyone out because they're too big, too popular, too broad or too weird. It's just all good music, it's all from within these borders and it's all worth hitting play on.
Here are Chart Attack's 25 best Canadian songs of 2015.
Dilly Dally, "Desire"
There’s no doubt looking back at Toronto’s many breakthrough acts of 2015, Dilly Dally are sitting atop the throne. Setting the tone as the opener of their debut album Sore, “Desire” gives you four counts, then smashes you over the head with a bottle. You can’t escape Katie Monks' fierce growls of burning love hitting you from every direction. It’s thick and heavy, sweet and poppy. It stares you in the eye, demanding your attention. - Ryan Parker
Grimes, "Kill V. Maim"
Grimes’ “Kill V. Maim” isn’t a single, yet, but when listening to Art Angels it’s impossible not to latch onto. The faux-cheer-squad anthem is one of our first chances to hear Claire Boucher throw out the guttural, Marilyn Manson-harsh screams she was born to embody, and she’s singing phrases I feel I’ve heard every music scene bro I know say at some point, in a put-on, lower register: ”I got friends in high places / I get out for free / I got in a fight but they don't know me / Cause I'm only a man / And I do what I can.” I hope there’s a video soon, and I hope it’s just Claire chopping up noise bros, Rihanna-style. - Kristel Jax
U.S. Girls, "Woman's Work"
A Toronto resident for several years and now officially a Canadian citizen, Meg Remy made her 4AD debut with Half Free this year. She recently credited fellow musician Simone Schmidt for inspiring her to tackle political issues, and while this sells previous albums short — Remy’s been confronting serious themes and writing difficult characters in her music throughout her catalogue — Half Free is her most powerful yet, both sonically and lyrically. The anxious final track “Woman’s Work” veers industrial as Remy’s vocal tracks bend and warp, at times nearly screaming through layers of electronics, imprinting chills like fingerprints on the wrist of the mind: “You arrive in your mother’s arms / But you will leave riding in a red limousine" - Kristel Jax
Alessia Cara, "Here"
19-year-old Brampton, Ontario native and 2015 viral sensation Alessia Cara's anti-party anthem “Here” is a sultry mash-up of trip-hop beats and jazzy instrumentation. Punctuating keys give off a throwback, old-school vibe, contrasting with the pulsing percussion pop music has come to embrace. The song is really just one big juxtaposition, as the listener’s urges to groove and chill come in constant combat. Cara’s vocal performance features control and texture that could outshine any seasoned professional, but her delivery is never over the top. The lyrics, meanwhile, weave sprinkles of feminism (“I don’t dance/don’t ask/I don’t need a boyfriend”) with wisdom beyond her years (“But really I would rather be at home all by myself/not in the room with people who don’t even care about my well-being”). The girl is barely even legal and she’s already over it. - Julia Lennox
Drake, “Know Yourself"
"I was running through the 6 with my woes." That phrase would have been basically meaningless in 2014, but it became a point of civic pride by the time If You're Reading This dropped. Sure, "Back To Back" was the tossed-off diss track that earned him a Grammy nomination and "Hotline Bling" was the one my mom texted to ask me about, but "Know Yourself" was the rallying cry: Drake's Toronto rendered in nine words. A hook hard enough to make people lose their shit for at a Vegas mega-club as much as past Kennedy Road. But those words, those woes are Toronto's no matter which angle you look at it from. - Richard Trapunski
Keita Juma feat. Brendan Philip, “Come Over”
Keita Juma's mesmerizing, minimal house production is understated and coy and so are his lyrics, but "Come Over" can only mean one thing. Less "you used to call," more "call if you feel like it." There's really only one word to describe this song's vibe: smooth. All year KJ has been dropping gems on SoundCloud and proving that Toronto hip-hop is more than just OVO. This isn't just some of the best Toronto rap from this year, it's some of the best electronic music, period. - Richard Trapunski
Daniel Caesar feat. BADBADNOTGOOD & Sean Leon, "Paradise"
A standout single off Daniel Caesar's brilliant Pilgrim's Paradise EP, this Toronto collab is a showcase for some of the great talent coming out of the city as of late. The bright, crisp instrumental by Humber College jazz students-turned hip-hop house band BADBADNOTGOOD creates a smooth and (not surprisingly) jazzy vibe for Caesar to showcase his soulful voice. Perhaps all the attention he's been getting lately isn't as easy to cope with as he anticipated. "Don't forget you chose this life," he sings. "Welcome to your paradise / Lay in your bed, reap what you sow." Daniel, I think it's best to get used to the spotlight if you keep making music like this. - Adam Pugsley
The Weeknd, "Can't Feel My Face"
I didn't think it could be done. I didn't think you could make a major label star out of The Weeknd. His music was too depraved, I thought. Too self-loathing. You couldn't make radio pop out of sad, narcotic-numbed loft fucking. Turns out all he needed was Max Martin and The Cardigans' Peter Svensson. The Swedish chart wizards helped massage out Abel Tesfaye's inner Michael Jackson - always lurking, just usually deep and blurry - and spun it into a big, bright love song... that compares infatuation to being deadened by cocaine. Most listeners probably missed that subtext under one of the funkiest, most addictive hooks of the summer. But, like the protagonist of the song, they loved it. - Richard Trapunski
Ben Gunning, "Live In Love"
Resurfacing as an arty R&B talent, Toronto singer/songwriter Ben Gunning assembled a local supergroup around him to breathe life into his inflatable, maximimalist universe. "Live In Love" taps Joseph Shabason of Destroyer and DIANA on saxophone; Alanna Stuart (Bonjay), Felicity Williams, Robin Dann (Bernice), and Thom Gill sing backup; and Kieran Adams, also of DIANA, plays percussion and produced. Counterpoint to its neon synthetic glow, the song celebrates the quest for a more authentic, organic version of life: a life guided by love. Its outsized heart and soul rises above the mechanical gearworks. - Chris Hampton
Justin Bieber, "Sorry"
There’s no mistaking that Diplo and Skrillex are responsible for administering CPR on Justin Bieber’s career. There’s also no coincidence that Purpose’s best tracks were produced by Sonny Moore, including “Sorry,” a blistering, anthemic and room-exploding… apology? It pops and twists in every perfect direction, making every former hater ask their friends for forgiveness, until they realize everyone loves it just as much as they do. - Ryan Parker
Carly Rae Jepsen, "Run Away With Me"
Let’s get it out of the way: E•MO•TION is the best pop album of the year. The opening saxophone on “Run Away With Me" is basically the unofficial national siren that yells “listen to me.” The song is scuba diving off the coast of New Zealand, slowly ascending to home base, when all of a sudden its air tank turns into a jet pack and breaks through the ocean’s surface at 100 kmph. There wasn’t another song released this year that in the very instant the chorus hits, makes you want to accomplish everything you told yourself you’d do in the past 12 months. - Ryan Parker
It’s hard to think of a more powerful moment for feminism in music this year than Raphaelle Standell-Preston calling out the bullshit of slut-shaming in a voice plain, clear and forceful: “In my position, I’m the slut/I’m the bitch/I’m the whore/the one you hate.” “Miniskirt” lays Standell-Preston’s frustration with the male gaze bare while defiantly, almost violently tearing freedom back from its sweaty hands. After an intro full of buzzsaw synths and crystal clear piano, the song turns slowly into a pulsing, strobe-like triumph, Standell-Preston’s gymnastic voice as beautiful as it is dangerous. - Matt Williams
Mas Ysa, “Margarita”
Montreal’s Thomas Arsenault (aka Mas Ysa) released one of 2015’s most fascinating and spirited full-length debuts with Seraph, a collection of pristine pop gems. “Margarita” was its shining star. Arsenault called the track a “complicated thank you” to his mother that deals with growing up. It’s sparkling and organically produced, textured with flute, simple percussion, airy synth and a catchy sax riff. That sounds like a lot going on, but it’s wide open and anchored by Arsenault’s passionate vocals, belting heartfelt lines like “Margarita, don’t you leave us too young.” - Matt Williams
Destroyer, "Dream Lover"
In the grand, off-Broadway production of Poison Season, “Dream Lover” is the first-act curtain-raiser — a ritzy, high-budget pageant — introducing its ensemble, all honking and swirling around Dan Bejar as he directs like Guido Anselmi in Fellini’s 8 1/2. On an album indebted almost equally to post-war Big Band pop singers and mid-‘70s street-rock, this is its most Springsteenian pole, which is an unusual pose for Destroyer, contrasting all those myths about labour and blue collar soul and hard work with daydreams about love. - Chris Hampton
The Weather Station, “Shy Women”
It wasn’t until my wife pointed out how often she’s forced to literally move out of the way for men that I actually became aware of how much space we take up, giving little thought to how women are taught to move around us. “Shy Women” hones in on similar learned behaviours, focusing on what goes unsaid. Tamara Lindeman’s gift as storyteller is in the details, and here she locates the raging current beneath a moment between two people that often lives in silence. Lindeman’s voice and guitar, accompanied by piano and an insistent, minimal drum beat, coaxes out such swells of strings and overwhelming melody that it doesn't even need a chorus. It just gets straight to the point. - Michael Rancic
Blunt Chunks, "Woman"
With its cautious guitar tones and meditative vocals and electronics, this sleeper hit from Blunt Chunks’ Caitlin Woelfle-O'Brien, who’s been adding a glistening sheen to the surface of Toronto’s lo-fi gigs this year with her soulful drone pop, should entice Cat Power and Grouper fans. That, or anyone who’s more into spending the evening riding city buses staring at strangers than plotting a winter Tinder strategy. - Kristel Jax
Scattered Clouds, "Enchanteresse"
If there were a sci-fi western set in a future dystopic wasteland about a gruff, but morally upright cyborg bounty hunter, journeying across The Void with only the company of her trusty plasma blaster, fending off highwaymen, double-crossers, and starvation to claim her prize, this track by Hull, Quebec's Scattered Clouds might appear on that soundtrack. - Chris Hampton
Ought, "Beautiful Blue Sky"
“How’s the family?” “How’s your health been?” “Beautiful weather today.” Ought frontman Tim Darcy stacks high the mundane, often perfunctory, and highly-coded exchanges that govern everyday interaction, revealing that, mostly, we’re third-rate robots. But in that very revelation, he trips an override. The machine becomes self-aware. Then, there’s the blue dome that hangs overhead, containing all our human program like a casing, cradling it and diminishing it at once. It’s quasi-Buddhist nihilism meant to free you from your anxieties — be they death or dancing. - Chris Hampton
Fountain, “Egg Island”
Calgary's Sled Island festival is like a buffet of things you've probably never tried before but it's all so good you keep going back for more. Through that spread, Victoria, BC's Fountain was the band that became a regular part of our diet this year. Listen to "Egg Island" and it might be part of yours too. At the very least you'll be humming "eggs on an island, dressed for succession" whether or not you know what it's supposed to mean. A reminder that shifting time signatures and jangly, spiky post-punk can still be hooky as hell. - Richard Trapunski
Fog Lake, “Shanty Town”
“Shanty Town” sounds like it’s constantly on the verge of falling apart, but it’s in that fragile realm where Newfoundland Orchid Tapes signee Fog Lake, a.k.a. Aaron Powell, thrives. The song begins with the line “I'll send an echo to make you whole” but before you even have a chance to decipher what that might mean, Powell finishes the thought: “If you ever want it, let me know.” He sings in elliptical, unpredictable phrases, making the listener really work for any sense of meaning. The warm, autumnal production is inviting throughout, but the song's slow wobble keeps it off-kilter and flawed, suggesting Powell’s offer probably never gets a response. - Michael Rancic
Petra Glynt, "Murder"
Canada may just be preparing itself to ditch a decade or so of apathy, and Toronto’s Alex Mackenzie is ready to be one of our strongest voices. In this track, written on a Greyhound bus, Alex confronts then-PM Harper: “Choosing the economy over our real future / Call it what it is / Murder.... / All I see is dirty hands and dirty money.” On SoundCloud she writes, in part: “We don't care about economic gains. We do not want the wealth of temporal money.” Though Harper’s been voted out, her response about the intentions for the song after Chart Attack first wrote about “Murder” is worth a read as well. - Kristel Jax
Marie Davidson, “Balade Aux USA”
When I spoke to Marie Davidson back in June, she revealed that “Balade Aux U.S.A.” is based on a road trip/mini tour she took in 2013. The album that the song is featured on, Un Autre Voyage, plays with the notion of a trip, combining the literal and the hallucinogenic meanings of the term. “Balade” works to reaffirm that relationship, unfolding with a beat that sets the pace like lights on the highway when you’re driving at a good clip. A distant electric guitar and a slight echo in her voice pull the journey into more psychedelic directions as her sequencers drift in and out of focus. “Balade” demonstrates Davidson’s strengths: complex and cinematic, yet driving and totally danceable. - Michael Rancic
[READ: LINER NOTES: Marie Davidson’s strange Lynchian trip Un Autre Voyage]
Egyptrixx, “Transfer of Energy (Feelings of Power)”
In a fascinating 90 minute interview with Chart Attack this year, David Psutka told me that his primary goal in Egyptrixx is to deconstruct and rebuild the elements of club music in a a minimalist way that strips it to its dark, almost violent core. That philosophy to his work in other projects like the slowcore folk band ANAMAI, but the title track off this year's Transfer of Energy (Feelings of Power) might be its purest expression. You can hear the intense highs you would in a club, though this wouldn't play in any club I've ever been to. But, I don't know, maybe you hang out in pitch-dark rooms filled with steam and steel, where the walls slowly close in on you as you fight to find the exit. And maybe that kinda resembles dancing. - Richard Trapunski
KEN Mode, “I Just Liked Fire”
Winnipeg’s KEN Mode descend from the sludgy, break-neck noise rock that Steve Albini helped popularize in the late '80s and early '90s, so it’s fitting that they would eventually work together. “I Just Liked Fire” makes the best use of Albini’s pyrotechnics, adding the band's own brand of jet fuel to his Kerosene. Albini’s approach — raw, stripped down, favouring a live room sound — works best when it can compliment a band with many moving parts. Like an anatomy cutaway, Albini shows how the songs work, layering each muscle and ligament of bass, guitar, drums and vocals, while still contributing to the whole. - Michael Rancic
Jazz Cartier, "New Religion"
Jazz Cartier is the Toronto I want in the headlines. He’s not operating in anyone’s shadow and just happened to release the best mixtape of the year. “New Religion” has the power to collapse club floors and take the ceiling down with him. Catching him live this year, I saw him doing exactly that. "New Religion" is the sonic equivalent of dropping a hunk of meat into a cage with 10 hungry lions. If it were a person, it’d smash all your windows then swim in your pool laughing. But like, in a good way. - Ryan Parker