The 23 best Canadian albums of 2023
We make the case for why albums by Tobi, Charlotte Cardin, Feist and more were the best of the year
It's year-end season again, which means it's time to look back and take stock of the varied musical offerings we received in the past year. We saw the return of household names including Feist, City and Colour, Fefe Dobson and Drake (although it feels like he never left), as well as a rise in emerging talent from Tobi, Planet Giza, Polaris Prize winner Debby Friday and more.
It was a difficult task to narrow this list down to 23. We began with almost 100 albums and, after many repeat listens and heated deliberations, we arrived at the final contenders. Read on below to discover the best albums of the year, as selected by our editorial team.
Beyond the bigger names, we hope you find some new faves, too. We also want to hear from you: let us know what albums you think we missed in the comments, or on Instagram @cbc_music.
LISTEN: Pete Morey hosts a three-hour radio special titled 2023 Unwrapped, about the musical highlights of 2023 and what 2024 has in store.
23. Comme dans un penthouse, Le Couleur
An open invitation to a dance party on the edge of the world — or, in a penthouse, as the English translation of the album title suggests. This strangely hypnotic record takes pleasure in its mysteries, and there's an irresistibly dark playfulness at work in the instrumentation and tempo. Even if the listener (like me) is not fluent in French and does not fully understand the intricacies of the plot behind this concept album — Barbara, a Le Couleur character from the band's 2016 album, is an assistant to a former pop star who's had a major fall from grace, so she spends her life on the run before ultimately succumbing to a tragic death? — the music is absolutely intoxicating. Strong '80s vibes, synths that occasionally sound like large, hollow flutes, moonlit beats and brief forays into space disco, golden funk and new-wave pop are just a taste of what's on offer in this wildly fun, wickedly weird romp. — Andrea Warner
22. Self-titled, Kx5
Kx5 is the brain trust of two EDM superstars: America's Kaskade and Canada's Deadmau5. The album began way back in 2008 when the two first worked together, releasing a pair of tracks: "I Remember" and "Move for Me," both of which made it to No. 1 on the U.S. Dance/Mix Billboard chart. Their Grammy-nominated self-titled album is swimming in moments from the progressive house end of the pool, but it also takes listeners into superbly darker, moodier places with tracks like "Eat Sleep," featuring Richard Walters, and "Unobsidian," the latter being a bit of an Easter egg for Deadmau5 fans who got on board back in the Halcyon441 era. The album is also at times exceedingly pretty, veering into melodic house, like on the biggest hit from the record, "Escape," featuring Hayla, a track nearing 100 millions spins on Spotify alone. But make no mistake, like all EDM, Kx5 was produced to move to: in your bedroom; in front of the mirror; in a club with your friends; in a stadium with fellow fans. — Ben Aylsworth
21. Emotion Sickness, Fefe Dobson
It's been 13 years since Fefe Dobson released an album, but there are no signs of rust on Emotion Sickness. An originator of the early 2000s pop-punk wave — and one of the only racialized women at the forefront — Dobson's return comes on the heels of pop-punk's recent revival thanks to a new generation of rockers including Willow, Olivia Rodrigo and Meet Me @ the Altar. But the ease with which Dobson slips back into her headbanging hooks proves that she's not trying to capitalize on a trend as much as she's just returning to a sound she helped shape: a raw and high-octane energy that is authentically her own. Combine that with lyrics chronicling lovesick highs and lows, and Dobson's comeback is complete. Infectious and hard-hitting, Emotion Sickness is a roller-coaster ride tailor-made for musical thrill seekers. — Melody Lau
20. Beyond the Uncanny Valley, Myst Milano
If Myst Milano's first album, Shapeshyfter, was an introductory lesson on the rapper, producer and DJ's singular blend of hip-hop and house music, Beyond the Uncanny Valley takes listeners through a master's thesis. It's a trip through electronic genres created by Black immigrants and descendants of enslaved people in the U.K., Canada and the U.S., connecting the diasporic dots between jungle, house, footwork, dubstep, funk and more. In a statement, Milano said they offer the album as "a working anthology of Black electronic music across generational, geographical and genre lines." Witty lyricism and bold production abound on an album that is equal parts abrasive and frolicking fun. Typical hip-hop sits around 85 to 95 beats per minute, and the production Milano is rapping over is much faster — jungle (which appears on "Pressure") can get up to 160 BPM. Some MCs might be challenged by that speed, but not Milano, who is never once overpowered by the beat. — Kelsey Adams
19. Jardin, Munya
Jardin, Montreal indie-pop artist Munya's sophomore release, opens with a kind welcome over bubbling synths: "Hello, how you feeling?/ I've been waiting for you." That level of warmth and intimacy radiates throughout the French and English album, whether Josie Boivin is lamenting an old summer romance ("Nuit Blanche") or navigating superficiality ("Once Again"). Drawing on the same Parisian-inspired soft pop of 2021's Voyage to Mars, Jardin expands on Boivin's synth and disco influences. Her love of Giorgio Moroder can be felt particularly on the undeniable groove of "Un Deux Trois," and elsewhere, she puts her own airy spin on New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle." With Jardin, Munya continues to carve out a space on the dance floor for her glimmering, ethereal dance-pop anthems. — ML
18. The Love Still Held Me Near, City and Colour
City and Colour's wheelhouse is heart-wrenching tracks that often span love, loneliness and loss. On Dallas Green's seventh album, The Love Still Held Me Near, pain runs deep as the singer-songwriter grieves his late friend and producer, Karl Bareham, who drowned in 2019. Green's vocals are steeped in heartache as he lays his soul bare over sweeping folk instrumentation. But as always, he harnesses his ability to pull beauty from the darkness, crafting thoughtful, vulnerable lyrics that resonate with anyone on the path to healing. Some songs ("The Things We Choose to Care About") have the familiar, harmony-filled sounds of his early releases, while others ("Begin Again") contain glimmers of newness, including Green experimenting with singing in a lower register. It's a record that, despite its melancholy themes, soothes and holds you close like a warm blanket. — Natalie Harmsen
17. Okantomi, Okan
The open secret to Okan's brilliance is the palpable creative chemistry of its married co-leaders Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne. Their dynamic interplay — Rodriguez's violin and lead vocals and Savigne's percussion and backing vocals — is an enthralling dance, and evident in every aspect of their music. Okantomi, their third and most ambitious record yet, is a testament to the ways in which they've grown together as a band but also as individual musicians and composers. The artists draw on their shared Afro-Cuban roots and musical cultures to craft a brilliantly lush sonic garden of genre-defying jazz-classical-pop that's as personal as it is experimental. Dance along to the joyful liberation of "La Reina del Norte," exchange flirty glances to the sultry Afro-Latin pop of "Iglu," and witness the urgent, fervent hope of the richly layered "Oriki Oshun," which Rodriguez composed in the wake of a miscarriage and as a prayer for protection in her next pregnancy. — AW
16. For All the Dogs, Drake
When Drake announced the release For All the Dogs, it seemed like a direct response to the criticism around his last three albums. He promised the "old Drake," referring to era-defining albums including Take Care and Nothing Was the Same that blended melody and underground rap with ease. While For All the Dogs doesn't quite hit those marks, there are plenty of highs that show Drake rapping as if he still has something to prove. "Away from Home" captures Drake at his most diaristic, while "First Person Shooter," featuring J Cole over some truly menacing production, showcases that the two rappers who came up together over a decade ago still have a bite as big as their bark. "Rich Baby Daddy," featuring a standout Sexxy Red, channels that Miami bass energy into a dance-floor hit. On "8am in Charlotte," the soulful, slick Conductor Williams-produced beat matches perfectly with Drake rapping for rap's sake for more than four minutes straight. We get a second Conductor collab on "Stories About My Brother" from the Scary Hours edition of the album, the six rap-heavy bonus tracks pushing the full length of the album to almost two hours. While not as long as a Scorsese picture, it certainly feels too long for an album. But with some careful editing of your playlist, it's easy to find enough moments of brilliance for longtime Drake fans. — Jesse Kinos-Goodin
15. Self-titled, Nico Paulo
It felt like Nico Paulo came out of nowhere in April 2023 with her stunning debut album, but that's never the real story. The Canadian-born singer-songwriter grew up in Portugal and moved to Toronto in 2014, where she picked up a guitar for the first time, though she'd been singing most of her life. Her debut EP came out in 2020, when she was touring with Tim Baker, and during an early lockdown the then romantic partners moved to Baker's St. John's hometown — where Paulo unexpectedly found home. It's an assuredness you can hear on Nico Paulo, which is unhurried and gorgeous in its instrumentation, Paulo's voice a warm invitation on songs about romantic, platonic and self-love. There are light fingerprints from Paulo's influences — the Tropicália of Gal Costa; Feist; Nico — but the timelessness of this album is all her own. Recorded in a cabin on Nova Scotia's South Shore with co-producers Baker and percussionist Joshua Van Tassel, Nico Paulo also pulls on the talents of more Newfoundlanders: clarinetist Mary Beth Waldram, singer Steve Maloney and Hey Rosetta!'s Adam Hogan. That Paulo studied to be a graphic designer before turning to music makes sense: she translates her vivid imagery into lyrics with ease, knowing just when to zero in on a held hand, or pull back to the larger moment. There is never a wrong time to put this album on — it will fill your heart whenever you need it. — Holly Gordon
14. Good People, Majid Jordan
After a decade as a duo, Majid Jordan's romantic fourth album is a true "return to form" — a love letter from two friends remembering why they cherish making music. Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman began their musical journey in their university dorm under the moniker Good People (hence the album name), and creating songs in one room together again is what resulted in this entrancing new project. With magnetic instrumentation and straightforward lyricism, Good People swerves away from the refined pop that filtered through 2021's Wildest Dreams and instead experiments with sounds from unlikely sources: "Waiting For You" channels the sultry soul of Sade, and "Hands Tied" displays traces of the XX's guitar-driven moodiness. The album's heart, though, is one of softness that takes form in the gorgeous, poetic track "The Message." "The morning is for angels/ in their light, I begin," Al Maskati sings on the first verse, proving that he and Ullman always thrive when creating from a place of endearment. — NH
13. The Loveliest Time, Carly Rae Jepsen
They say nothing is certain in this world except death and taxes, but there's a third (and infinitely more pleasant) certainty: each time Carly Rae Jepsen releases an album, a collection of B-sides is sure to follow. Emotion and Dedicated both spawned them; The Loveliest Time is the prolific songwriter's companion to 2022's The Loneliest Time. Built into the B-sides concept is eclecticism, and Jepsen's mastery of pop's sub-genres is on full display here: "Psychedelic Switch" is a dance-pop banger; "Shadow" is bubblegum pop, as addictive as its subject (infatuation); "Kamikaze" begins as brooding EDM before Jepson's radiance shines through; pop-rock anthem "Stadium Love" has a juicy guitar solo; and "Aeroplanes" borrows its wacky harmonies from 1960s psychedelic pop. The Loveliest Time's emotional core is "Kollage," the album's most popular (and introspective) song, advocating for self-preservation in matters of the heart: "Leaving you was certainly the hardest part of all," she sings, "But I was living like a servant to a secret I was tryna protect." — Robert Rowat
12. Never Enough, Daniel Caesar
While he's already three albums into his career, Caesar's latest feels like a coming-of-age project. With a Grammy Award under his belt, a No. 1 hit in his 2021 Justin Bieber collaboration "Peaches" and millions of fans paying close attention, superstardom came to Caesar much faster than he had anticipated. "I was waiting on a feeling that turned out to be fleeting," Caesar explained on CBC's Q in April. Never Enough captures a moment in time where Caesar had to confront his newfound fame and its impact on his life, relationships and faith. It's an album fuelled by growth while never sacrificing Caesar's signature elements: a fusion of traditional and modern R&B, honest lyricism and Caesar's velvet voice. There are moments of sonic expansion, bringing in psychedelic touches that launch tracks like "Ocho Rios" and "Pain Is Inevitable" into the stratosphere, but also classic ballads like "Always" that stand out as some of Caesar's best work. Never Enough is an honest, though not always pretty, look into a rising star's ascent — a necessary progression in what will surely be a long, prosperous career for the Oshawa-born artist. — ML
11. Self-titled, Kaytraminé
There's a reason the producer-rapper duo of Kaytranada and Aminé released this debut album right before summer began: the pair knew Kaytraminé was destined to soundtrack the sweltering season, accompanying listeners from the beach to late nights at the club. Kaytranada's glossy dance production melds perfectly with Aminé's cheeky verses, and the pair also gets assists from a few hip-hop heavy-hitters along the way, including Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams. Polished tracks like "4eva" and "Sossaup" are perfectly crafted bangers intended to hook listeners, but don't skip the more underrated songs: "STFU3" is braggadocious and instantly infectious; "Letstalkaboutit" makes fresh use of a Jermaine Dupri sample; and "Rebuke" is a sleek offering that toys with jazz and R&B. The unmistakable admiration that Kaytranada and Aminé have for one another fuels the record, and the two succeed at having fun while threading boom-bap, tropical beats and endless charisma throughout. — NH
10. Inuktitut, Elisapie
"We decided: if it doesn't make you cry, it's out," Elisapie told CBC Music earlier this year, about the song criteria for her 2023 release. Technically a covers album of classic rock and pop songs spanning the '60s to the '90s — including Fleetwood Mac's "Sinnatuumait (Dreams)" and Leonard Cohen's "Taimaa Qimatsiniungimat (Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye)" — Inuktitut is stunning in its originality, each song chosen for its inextricable connection to Elisapie's childhood memories in Salluit, a village in Nunavik, Que. Whether you can understand the singer-songwriter's lovingly translated Inuktitut versions or not, the power equally lies in the emotion behind the retelling — a universal heartbeat, each song recognizable only by the muscle-memory melodies intrinsic to the worldwide hits. The album was recorded with producer, arranger and guitarist Joe Grass and drummer Robbie Kruster, with assists from Leif Vollebekk on "Qimmijuat (Wild Horses)" and New York City brass quartet the Westerlies on "Qaisimalaurittuq (Wish You Were Here)" — an intimate group working on an intimate project. Inuktitut is a reclamation of songs and stories that helped the Polaris Prize-shortlisted and Juno-nominated artist heal, and turned into one of the most arresting works of her career. — HG
9. 99 Nights, Charlotte Cardin
Charlotte Cardin's last album, Phoenix, led to a sweep at the 2022 Junos, and 99 Nights seems primed to accomplish the same. Her distinctive rasp and genre of downtempo, diaristic pop won over audiences and jury members alike, and they reach new heights here. Thematically, 99 Nights chronicles a tumultuous summer for Cardin and her partner, when they were on the brink of ending their relationship. Ultimately, the two stayed together, but these songs written throughout the worst parts of their conflict are some of Cardin's most revealing. There are no power-pop moments on 99 Nights, just a woman facing her reality crumbling and figuring out how to pick up the pieces. Her songwriting is as sharp as ever, as lyrics like "I wonder how high you gotta be for you to love me?" hit like a gut punch. On the album, Cardin describes feeling dissociated from the world around her ("Confetti"), the toll of toxic power imbalances ("Daddy's a Psycho") and needing to let go of ego ("Jim Carrey"). There is only one feature on the album, fellow Montrealer Skiifall on "Enfer," which seems intentional considering the album plays like Cardin's diary, although the closer, "Next to You," was co-written with singer-songwriter Patrick Watson. — KA
8. Guy, Jayda G
On this introspective record, Jayda Guy (known professionally as Jayda G) turns grief and loss into a triumphant celebration of the life of her late father. In 1998, when Guy was 10 years old, her father was dying of a critical illness. He wanted to leave a way for Guy to know him in the future and, along with the help of her older sister, he recorded 11 hours' worth of home videos that told his life story. The Grammy- and Juno-nominated DJ and producer properly sat with these videos for the first time during the pandemic lockdowns, and began to transmute the trials and triumphs of his life into song. The result is a cathartic release, blending dance, pop and R&B to speak to the lessons Guy gleaned from her father's story. "Circle Back Around" and "Blue Lights" touch on his run-ins with authorities and systemic police violence, while "Scars" speaks to overcoming hardship but being left with the calluses and scars. One of the album's most jubilant moments is the chorus of "Sapphires of Gold": as Guy's glittering vocals ring out, singing "I have fallen in love with living" repeatedly, it feels like she's healed something deep inside herself. — KA
7. Powder Blue, Begonia
Begonia's voice is exquisite, but Powder Blue's triumph is the way the instrumentation and her vocals work together. The record plays with sound, space and genre to create a unique acid-soul disco with forays into art-pop and bewitching balladry — the perfect foundation for songs that are exploring complex themes. It's a push-pull between liberation, self-destruction and, ultimately, empowerment and love. The record is strategic and brave in the ways it melds creativity and catharsis, especially as Begonia sings about rebelling against a religious upbringing, heartbreak and living in a politicized body. Every song on Powder Blue is a standout, but the one that resonates most deeply and personally for me is the brilliant "Crying." Some people may listen to it and assume, at first, that fat equals sad, but it does not. Some of us fat women are perfectly proud to live our lives as strong, thick queens and Begonia is writing herself, and the rest of us, into our full glory. — AW
6. Good Luck, Debby Friday
I'm only a lover,
With not much to give.
I'm only a woman,
With nothing to live for.
Oh Mary, Mary,
Won't you forgive,
A prodigal daughter at the edge of the cliff,
I do what I can.
Every so often an artist comes around who sounds like the future, and in 2023 that was Debby Friday. She won the Polaris Music Prize for her debut album, Good Luck, her defiance against rigid genre expectations making her project stand out from the rest of the short list. On the surface, it may seem all high-voltage sonics and daring, sultry vocals, but once you sit with Good Luck and let it permeate your senses, its emotional core is revealed. Written from the perspective of a young woman taking stock of the shortcomings, betrayals and triumphs that come with womanhood, Good Luck is some of the rawest, most evocative electronic music you'll hear this year. An album of juxtapositions, both sonically (the songs flit between punk, R&B, hardstyle, industrial techno and more) and lyrically, Friday toes the line between apprehensive self-doubt and over-the-top confidence. "So Hard to Tell" and "What a Man" are the biggest singles off the album, but "Let U Down," which holds a mirror to the darkest parts of oneself and then broadcasts the findings to the world, is the album's most vulnerable and cathartic moment. — KA
5. Ready When You Are, Planet Giza
On Polaris-longlisted Ready When You Are, Planet Giza's sophomore album, style and substance meet in perfect harmony. Look no further than the jazz-inflected, lyrical hip-hop of "Quiet on the Set," whose fabulous Will Albu and Dovi-directed video channels 1960s mod culture, styled in black and white with off-kilter camera angles and bold editing. The song's retro-futuristic fusion is the trademark of the Montreal-based trio, comprising producers Rami B and DoomX and rapper Tony Stone, who in 2021 laughingly described their sound as "futuristic, old-school, soft, hardcore, fast-paced slow music." Jokes aside, crafting their beats is serious business — a calling card that attracted some sought-after collaborators to this project: Mick Jenkins, who adds an authoritative voice to "Think of Me;" Topaz Jones, a breath of fresh air on upbeat "Folded;" and British Ghanaian rapper Kojey Radical, whose verses intertwine seductively with saxophone on gentle, Afrobeat-leaning "Elevator." Lead single "WYD" is a mini masterclass on sample-based production, with dense layers of sound — including a delirious, intermittent "hee haw" — that never overshadow Stone and guest rapper Saba's flow. — RR
4. Motewolonuwok, Jeremy Dutcher
Cherokee writer Qwo-Li Driskill once wrote: "From the heavy debris of loss, together we emerge." It's one of the many inspirations behind Jeremy Dutcher's sophomore album, Motewolonuwok, and it perfectly illustrates the themes of community that bind every track. Whether that means the new collaborations on this album, or the message Dutcher is trying to convey of coming together to acknowledge the past while moving toward a more hopeful future, Motewolonuwok invites us into a larger, expanded world. Language revitalization is still at the core of Dutcher's work, continuing the goals of his Polaris Music Prize-winning debut, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, but Wolastoqey now shares space with English-language songs meant to speak more directly to non-Indigenous listeners. "Take my hand/ walk with me," Dutcher sings on "Take my Hand," the first English track on the album. While Motewolonuwok doesn't shy away from the painful experiences of Indigenous peoples (which also intersect on this album with Dutcher's identity as a queer, two-spirit artist), Dutcher's gentle approach — to "rise in beauty" and forge a path forward with grace — is a powerful beacon of hope during these dark, divisive times. — ML
3. Multitudes, Feist
On what is one of her rawest albums, Feist grapples with the weight of existence. Multitudes is an earnest and vibrant picture of what it truly means to be alive, as the version of Feist that exists on the album is one that has been forced to navigate the juxtaposition of death and life simultaneously: her father died while she was learning how to be a new parent. Many of the songs translate how she straddled grief and excitement, oscillating from explosive moments on "In Lightning" to hushed, lullaby-like ones on "I Took all My Rings Off." The lyrics on Multitudes reflect these contrasting moments, as Feist embraces introspection to craft numerous straightforward verses. On "Forever Before," she peels back the layers of fear tied to starting anew: "All the time in the world/ you can't begin to prepare," she admits. Feist is unapologetic in her exploration of both uncertainty and hope, which collide over and over again. Multitudes is an album that requires multiple listens to fully appreciate how Feist's sketches of ideas became kaleidoscopic songs, but it's worth the repeats: the richly detailed tracks are a tender, reflective and impassioned window into healing. — NH
2. The Returner, Allison Russell
Demons (demons) demons (demons),
Surely can't outride 'em.
Oh turn around, look 'em in the face,
They don't like how sunlight tastes,
Allison Russell ends the first verse of her song "Demons" in a chorus of voices, her community rising to let the light through on an album that is overflowing with exaltation — a fitting return for an artist who has so much to delight in. The Montreal-born Russell stormed onstage with her solo debut, Outside Child, in May 2021, after decades performing in collaborative projects (Americana duo Birds of Chicago; folk group Po'Girl; banjo quartet Our Native Daughters). It was an album about a traumatic childhood, released at a time that felt right for Russell — and was nominated for three Grammys and won a Juno. On her 2023 release, Russell is celebrating: The Returner is an album about survivors' joy and sisterhood, written and performed with the Rainbow Coalition, a group of women and non-binary artists who complete Russell's vision of "radical reclamation." "[The Returner] is a much deeper articulation of rhythm, groove, and syncopation," she said via press release. "Groove as it heralds the self back into the body, groove as it celebrates sensual and sexual agency and flowering, groove as an urgent call to action and political activism." With The Returner, Russell continues to redefine Americana — and it already has four Grammy nominations. — HG
1. Panic, Tobi
On Panic, Nigerian-born, Ontario-raised rapper Tobi delivers what he referred to in press material as "unapologetic soul music." Rather than a set sound or genre, though, he's referring more to the emotional heft he delivers across 12 tracks that see him both rapping and singing over everything from cinematic strings to dirty funk basslines, soul samples to experimental jazz. At the forefront is his ability as a storyteller to hold it all together thematically. Taking us through pivotal moments of his life ("Where were you when you first held a gun? I was five," he asks on "Someone I Knew"), Tobi uses the personal to explore the universal, whether he's unpacking ideas around masculinity and vulnerability, or challenging his listeners to find ways to celebrate the present in the face of oppression. "Why they wait to give you flowers when you cannot smell? And why they wait to lift you up when they your pallbearers?" he raps on "Flowers," just one of the many standout tracks on the album. Panic is the followup to Tobi's Juno Award-winning Elements Vol. 1, and he's holding nothing back, proving himself to be at the helm of the next wave of great storytellers. — JK-G