Best Canadian Music Writing 2020

Image: After Hours by The Weeknd album cover

compiled by Del Cowie, Invisible’s intrepid Bibliophonic editor

In this year of all years, with a global pandemic and the unrelenting brutality of anti-Black racism undeniably at top of mind, music has provided solace and comfort and has proved to be a bonding and resilient force.

Obviously, the infrastructure around music was affected in some devastating and potentially irreversible ways by the pandemic fallout, but the music itself managed to persist in some form. Some of the entries on this Best Canadian Music Writing list for 2020 address the pandemic directly, while others articles analyze albums recorded way before March 2020 through a post-Zoom-fatigued lens. And then some don’t. After all, escapism in these times is very necessary. 

This chaotic year also saw the revival of Invisible’s Bibliophonic series. In October we published Enya: A Treatise On Unguilty Pleasures by the Montreal-born, Berlin-based pianist Chilly Gonzales. As much as Gonzales has written about the elusive Irish singer’s relationship to popular culture in the book, it is also a memoir detailing Gonzales’ relationship to music as a whole. 

In a year where for many of us that relationship between music and ourselves got a little more symbiotic, the writing on this list of in-depth features, essays, profiles, Q&As, or nostalgic long reads from some Canadian music writers provided further context and perspective into the music emanating from this country. (Full disclosure: I’ve contributed writing to Complex this year). 

Like always (this is the third year that I’ve compiled this list), this is a personal list, and in this crazy year it’s entirely possible that I missed something stellar. But for the most part I feel at least some semblance of the varied perspectives and musical creativity is captured in this snapshot. Thanks again to all the writers, publishers and editors involved for making these articles a reality in a very challenging year.

You Should be Listening to Canadian Online Underground Radio by Kelsey Adams (Complex Canada)

Fiver’s Simone Schmidt on how music communities can rebuild after COVID-19 by Tom Beedham (NOW Toronto)

The remarkable sameness of The Weeknd by Amani Bin Shikhan (The Fader)

25 Years On, Honey Jam Is Still Looking Out for Canadian Women in Music  by Karen Bliss (Complex Canada)

Andy Shauf Is Canada’s Next Great Singer-Songwriter, Not That He’d Admit It by Matt Bobkin (Exclaim!)

The Dears made an ideal album for our end times by Lorraine Carpenter (CultMTL)

The passion of Cindy Lee by Jordan Darville (The Fader)

Backxwash, The Metal-Sampling Rapper, Turns Fury Into Forgiveness by Laina Dawes (NPR)

The Cameron House and the Birth of Queen West by Jonny Dovercourt (Spacing, Any Night of the Week book excerpt)

Houdini was destined for greatness by Alex Nino Gheciu (Complex Canada)

Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy: the complicated history of Canadian boy bands by Holly Gordon, Melody Lau, and Andrea Warner (CBC Music)

Kathleen Edwards: 5 songs that changed my life by Holly Gordon (CBC Music)

Pantayo Merges Traditional Filipino Kulintang with Punk, R&B, and Synthy Electronica By Chaka V. Grier (Audiofemme)

TOBi’s Journey from Mental Health Advocate to Canada’s Rising R&B Star by A. Harmony (Exclaim!)

Clairmont the Second is done being Toronto’s best-kept secret by Jesse Kinos-Goodin (CBC Music)

David Strickland talks Indigenous connections in hip-hop by Remi Louis Harris (HipHop Canada)

Remembering Denise Jones, a ‘force of nature’ and irrepressible promoter of Caribbean culture by Royson James (Toronto Star)

Rush’s Neil Peart was revered as one of the world’s best drummers by Nicholas Jennings (Globe and Mail)

Mustafa’s Meditative Songs of Mourning by Rawiya Kameir (Pitchfork)

Caribou Finds His Voice After Life-Changing Surprises by Daryl Keating (Exclaim!)

“My Number One Rule is to Never Try to Write”: An Interview with Dan Bejar by Adnan Khan (Hazlitt) 

What Ever happened to Diamond Rings? By Melody Lau (CBC Music)

How U.S. Girls Emerged From the Underground Onto E Street by Jesse Locke (The Ringer)

Lido Pimienta Mines Colombia’s Dark Past for Her Vision of a Vibrant Future by Erin Macleod (Exclaim!)

Jessy Lanza Finds the Truths in Pop Nostalgia by Max Mertens (Bandcamp)

Grimes: Miss Anthropocene by Anupa Mistry (Pitchfork)

Aquakultre’s feast of a lifetime by Morgan Mullin (The Coast) 

“Club Quarantine is a place for people to seek comfort in times of isolation” by Casey MQ (Crack)

Saving Little Jamaica by Rollie Pemberton (Hazlitt)

Salome Bey, Soulful Singer, Actress and Playwright, Dies at 86 by Catherine Porter (The New York Times)

Clearance culture is hindering Canadian artists’ creativity by Michael Rancic (New Feeling)

Dvsn muse on drive-in concerts and how the pandemic has changed music by Kevin Ritchie (NOW)

Yves Jarvis’ Stone and A Soul by Katerina Stamadianos (New Feeling)

Inside Daniel Romano’s Legendary 2020: How He Became Canada’s Most Prolific Musical Genius by Laura Stanley (Exclaim!)

Savannah Ré’s Triumphant Toronto R&B Journey by Sharine Taylor (Audiomack)

Will Canada ever deserve Deborah Cox? by Andrea Warner (CBC Music)

Mastermind: 33 Years In Hip-Hop by Keysha Watson (Urbanology)

Troubadour William Prince on Johnny Cash, Winnipeg and owning your talent by Brad Wheeler (Globe and Mail)

Not a Boy, Not Yet a Loverman by Carl Wilson (Slate)

3 Toronto DJs Open Up About Racist Encounters at Venues by Sumiko Wilson (Complex Canada)

BONUS: The Story Behind the Most 2020 Song: The CERB Hold Music by Kevin Maimann (VICE)

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