A guide to the country’s recent chart-topping alternative rock bands
Canada has always been a breeding ground for great alternative rock groups. Pioneers such as the Tragically Hip paved the way for countless other groups to become successful. Recently, new Canadian talents have been emerging at an astonishing rate—their down-to-earth, authentic and deeply personal takes on the genre are turning heads, not just around the country, but around the world.
July Talk is arguably the most exciting Canadian band around right now. They’ve played shows alongside Canadian rock icons such as Billy Talent, Sam Roberts and Matthew Good Band. They also won Breakthrough Group of the Year at the 2014 Junos. The group dropped their much anticipated follow-up album, Touch, which cemented them as THE band to watch in Canadian music. Touch, focuses especially on themes of loneliness and lust. One particular reason for their success is chemistry. Lead singers Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis—both from Toronto—have this electric energy between them. Every song feels and sounds like a battle for control. Through all of this emerges a sound that can only be described as captivating—each track is an explosion. Songs like the lead single, “Push + Pull,” only further serve to ingrain July Talk’s rapidly growing reputation as a mainstay in the Canadian rock scene.
Recommended album: Touch
There is no other band that recreates that Western Canadian sound like the Dudes, a rock group from Calgary that’s been around since the late 90s. With each subsequent album, the band explores and digs further into their Canadian roots for inspiration—through catchy hooks and laid back storytelling. Tracks like “Saturday Night” showcase what it means to be a Canadian hockey fan, while incorporating heavy guitar riffs and pumping drums that have become signature components of the band. Their albums embody the feeling of a drunk night in Banff, spending hours telling stories with friends around a campfire. The Dudes accompany their pop-rock sound with an ability to make some of the corniest lines sound cool, such as “And I think she’s right for someone else, let me introduce myself, I’m someone else, Mr. Someone Else.” They’ve become a staple in the Canadian rock conversation—the band brings an air of consequence-free fun that is sorely missed in music these days.
Recommended album: Blood Guts Bruises Cuts
Alternative rock singer Coleman Hell blasted onto the musical scene in 2015 with the song “2 Heads,” a track that went triple platinum in Canada, which comes from his debut album, Summerland. The album is inspired by the Wiccan belief of a purgatory between lives. Hell’s distinct, deep voice is accompanied by electronic beats. The intense electronic sounds and light, poppy banjo riffs come together in Hell’s Summerland album. Playing off this theme of purgatory, death and rebirth, the album delivers some of the best songs of the year. “Howling Moon,” “Devotion” and the title track, “Summerland,” all bring out the best in Canadian folklore. He doesn’t play it safe—he experiments with different sounds to bring a unique spin to the alternative genre. He manages to keep this light, catchy and triumphant album grounded. Even though it’s very possible Hell might become one of the biggest names to come out of the Canadian alternative scene, it seems like he’ll never lose sight of his Canadian background that inspires him.
Recommended album: Summerland
Since releasing his debut album, Postcards and Daydreaming, back in 2005, Dan Mangan has been steadily growing his reputation as one of the most consistent and talented Canadian songwriters in recent memory. The singer is based out of Vancouver, B.C. and frequently collaborates with other Vancouver artists, including Kenton Loewen, a former member of Mother Mother. Mangan’s sound has been compared to that of Bon Iver. He takes a softer, more subdued approach to the alternative genre. He has always been an artist who appeals to Canadian audiences because of his storytelling ability. His album Oh Fortune won the Best Alternative Album in 2012 at the Juno Awards. Recently, Mangan has shifted from his usual acoustic guitar-driven sound to fuller, darker, band-orientated projects. His latest record, Unmake, is full of that same ability to tell deeply personal stories, but Mangan’s stripped-back guitar and heavier production makes the overall tone bleaker in comparison to his earlier work, which was closer to the folk-pop genre. His impeccable production has become a trademark throughout his past albums. Mangan’s evolution is a story, heard from album to album.
Recommended album: Unmake (EP)