Andy Shauf’s breakthrough album, The Party, was set entirely at a chaotic house party where friends danced, fought and fell in and out of love to a soundtrack of orchestral indie-rock gems. On its anticipated follow-up, The Neon Skyline (Arts & Crafts), the Regina-bred singer-songwriter once again invites listeners into a series of richly imagined vignettes, this time all situated in a dive bar on a single night. The cheery title track and playful single “Things I Do” sound pleasantly familiar, leaning heavily on dense vocal harmonies, a bevy of clarinets and Shauf’s lyrical hallmarks: a cast of first-name-basis characters, matter-of-fact storytelling and a tendency to overthink everything. But Skyline succeeds most when it breaks from tradition. The chorus of the pensive penultimate track, “Fire Truck,” is a sexy and skittish breakdown that’s impossible not to move to, while closer “Changer” morphs from a downbeat folk ballad into an unexpectedly sultry chorus. The bubblegum pop of “Try Again,” though, proves that the most surprising thing about Skyline is just how chipper Shauf—a brooding guy who’s written his fair share of wintry murder ballads— seems to be.
For Waseskwan Iskwew, the Winnipeg-bred Indigenous singer better known as iskwē, making music is a political act. Her first two albums—including 2017’s Polaris- and Juno-nominated The Fight Within—detailed the shameful treatment of Canada’s original inhabitants, shining a particularly bright light on missing and murdered Indigenous women through fearless trip-hop tracks. On her newest EP, acākosīk (independent), iskwē doubles down on her convictions with a collection of rousing alt-rock anthems that blend traditional drums and chants with the darkly industrial textures of late-nineties nu-metal. “Little Star” is a restless remembrance for Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie, two young Indigenous Canadians whose accused murderers were both acquitted. Yet acākosīk strikes a hopeful tone. On “The Unforgotten,” a cacophonous collaboration with throat singer Tanya Tagaq, iskwē belts out the rallying cry, “We are the nation of tomorrow / We are the children who were not afraid to die.”
On her debut EP, Red Mind (independent), the Toronto soul songstress Maddee croons about flaky lovers, falling in love too fast and drowning in a heady new relationship—the sort of subject matter you’d expect from a lovestruck twenty-one-year-old. Still, it’s hard to believe Maddee’s age, considering the maturity with which she commands her deep, buttery voice across six silky slow jams. No track showcases her precocity better than “Clouds,” a stunner that pairs bluesy organs with an immersive fog of harmonies. Elsewhere, jazzy electric keyboards, deep bass grooves, sparse percussion and the occasional trumpet blare provide a perfect foundation for Maddee’s slinky hooks, resulting in a self-possessed sound that brings to mind fellow Toronto R&B upstart Charlotte Day Wilson. If Red Mind could use anything, it’s a few more of Maddee’s tasteful, confident tracks.
Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin started dating in eighth grade. Before long, their schoolyard romance turned into a musical partnership called Electric Youth. Garrick provided the beats and synth-heavy backing tracks, while Griffin added a cloud of wispy vocal melodies. Whereas the Toronto synthpop duo’s 2014 debut, Innerworld, was an innocent salad-days soundtrack, their latest record, Memory Emotion (Last Gang Records), is darker and more cinematic. On opener “The Life,” analogue basses and ethereal strings envelop listeners in an eighties-inspired dream world. On the laid-back ballad “Breathless,” Griffin debates whether to embrace her reckless lover or “hold on for something better,” while on the pulsating dance track “Higher,” she sounds less inhibited, inviting her admirer to take her to new heights. But it’s the nostalgic number “Thirteen”—the age at which Garrick and Griffin started dating—that feels most emotionally honest. “Don’t you turn your back on a love that’s true,” Griffin sings. “Don’t you throw away all that we’ve been through.”