The news broke today that the 2020 JUNO Awards had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While this decision was probably wise, it’s also a huge blow to the Canadian music industry.
Many Canadian artists — not just the performers and nominees, but the local acts slated to perform JUNOfest shows in Saskatoon this weekend — rely on the JUNOs for exposure. I know I’ve discovered many of my favourite Canadian artists — The Beaches, William Prince, Lisa Leblanc, iskwē and many others — from JUNO season events, and I imagine I’m not alone.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to most of the nominated albums and putting together a primer on each category. Whatever happens with the Awards, I’m sure these artists could use a shout-out right now.
Below is a rundown of the nominees for the following categories, along with a link to one standout track from each: Rock Album; Alternative Album; Adult Alternative Album; Metal / Hard Music Album; Indigenous Artist or Group; Traditional Roots Album; Contemporary Roots Album; Pop Album; and Country Album.
Give these tunes a listen, and if you find something you like, feel free to share with your friends. Give the artists a follow. Download a song or buy an album, if you can.
Let’s support Canadian music.
Rock Album of the Year
Who said rock was dead? The most exciting album on this list is undoubtedly The Dirty Nil’s Master Volume (with Headstones’s aggressively cool PEOPLESKILLS a close second), but this year’s Rock category also boasts strong records from Big Wreck, pop-punk vets Sum 41, and up-and-comers The Glorious Sons.
The Dirty Nil – “That’s What Heaven Feels Like” (Master Volume)
Headstones – “Leave It All Behind” (PEOPLESKILLS)
Sum 41 – “Eat You Alive” (Order In Decline)
Big Wreck – “Found My Place” (But for the Sun)
The Glorious Sons – “The Ongoing Speculation Into the Death Of Rock and Roll” (A War On Everything)
Alternative Album of the Year
A strong and eclectic line-up are competing in this year’s Alternative category, which pits Black Mountain’s spacey classic rock throwback against PUP’s jubilantly manic punk album Morbid Stuff, Foxwarren’s cool debut, Mac Demarco’s mellow Here Comes the Cowboy, and Orville Peck’s mysterious alt-country. (Personally, I’m hooked on Morbid Stuff, but Black Mountain’s Destroyer deserves an award for the album cover alone).
PUP – “See You At Your Funeral” (Morbid Stuff)
Black Mountain – “Licensed To Drive” (Destroyer)
Foxwarren – “Everything Apart” (Foxwarren)
Orville Peck – “Dead of Night” (Pony)
Mac Demarco – “All Of Our Yesterdays” (Here Comes the Cowboy)
Adult Alternative Album of the Year
The Adult Alternative category is similarly hard to pin down, genre-wise, setting melancholic soundscapes from Patrick Watson and City and Colour against Half Moon Run’s indie rock, iskwē’s potent electronic rock, and Leonard Cohen’s meditative verse.
All of the nominees in the category are quite strong, but in my opinion there are two obvious standouts. Cohen’s posthumous record Thanks for the Dance is the poet-songwriter at his best, with understated instrumentation showcasing his gruff voice and sparse lyrics; it’s almost a spoken word album. iskwē’s acākosik, meanwhile, is an electrifying mix of rock, electronica, and industrial, setting politically-charged lyrics about grief, violence, and oppression against dramatic gothic arrangements and Powwow singing.
iskwē – “Little Star” (acākosik)
Leonard Cohen – “Thanks for the Dance” (Thanks for the Dance)
City and Colour – “Astronaut” (A Pill For Loneliness)
Half Moon Run – “Razorblade” (A Blemish in the Great Light)
Patrick Watson – “Broken” (Wave)
Metal / Hard Music Album of the Year
There’s something for everyone in this year’s Metal/Hard Music Category. Cradle of Filth member Lindsay Schoolcraft’s Martyr is Evanescence-esque gothic metal, while Striker’s Play To Win will appeal to fans of eighties hair bands. Kobra and the Lotus’s Evolution boasts sick solos and soaring choruses galore, and The Agonist’s Orphans manages to be punishing but powerful. The punk genre is also represented by Single Mothers’ excellent hardcore record Through A Wall.
I don’t envy the people who have to vote for this category – it would be like comparing poison apples to blood oranges.
Striker – Fight For Your Life (Play To Win)
Single Mothers – “Tan Lines (Like Passing Through a Wall”) (Through A Wall)
Kobra and the Lotus – “Wounds” (Evolution)
The Agonist – “In Vertigo” (Orphans)
Lindsay Schoolcraft – “Stranger” (Martyr)
Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year
The Indigenous category is known for being stylistically diverse, and this year is no exception. Yellowknife’s Digawolf and Nunavut’s Northern Haze both put out excellent hard rock records, while Nunavut pop singer Riit’s ataataga is slow-burning, atmospheric electronica. Also nominated are indie rockers nêhiyawak and Peace Country singer-songwriter Celeigh Cardinal, whose Stories From a Downtown Apartment evokes early Terra Lightfoot.
Northern Haze – “Iraq” (Siqinnaarut)
Digawolf – “Astral Travel” (Yellowstone)
Riit – Qaumajuapik (ataataga)
nêhiyawak – “tommaso” (nipiy)
Celeigh Cardinal – “Do You Know?” (Stories From A Downtown Apartment)
Traditional Roots Album of the Year
Lots of good stuff in this category as well. Natalie MacMaster’s East Coast fiddling is as invigorating as ever, and her instrumental album Sketches is a delight. The Small Glories’s bluesy-bluegrass record features no shortage of great songs and gorgeous harmonies, and Ottawa Valley triple threat April Verch’s Once a Day evokes classic country music in all its sharp-tongued glory (her feisty final track, “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking,” is a standout). The Dead South’s Sugar and Joy is a traditional bluegrass revival with a side of blackly comedic outlaw country, while Miranda Mullholland’s By Appointment Or Chance provides an eclectic, subtly genre-bending take on the folk genre.
Natalie McMaster – “Patricia Kelso’s” (Sketches)
April Verch – “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking” (Once A Day)
The Small Glories – “Johnson Slide” (Assiniboine & The Red)
Miranda Mulholland – Black Diamond (By Appointment or Chance)
The Dead South – “Broken Cowboy” (Sugar and Joy)
Contemporary Roots Album of the Year
My favourite record in this category is Lee Harvey Osmond’s (AKA Tom Wilson) Mohawk, a folk-rock epic about identity that evokes Post-Pop Depression era Iggy Pop. The Contemporary Roots category also features Del Barber’s bare-bones country, Catherine MacLellan’s melancholy country-folk, Justin Rutledge’s acclaimed Passages, and Irish Mythen’s plaintive ballads.
Lee Harvey Osmond – “Colours” (Mohawk)
Del Barber – “Ronnie and Rose” (Easy Keeper)
Catherine MacLellan – “Out Of Time” (Coyote)
Justin Rutledge – Passages (Passages)
Irish Mythen – “Raglan Road” (Little Bones)
Blues Album of the Year
The Blues nominees this year range from Whitehorse’s indie-inflected The Northern South Vol. 2 to powerhouse vocalist Dawn Tyler Watson’s lively Mad Love, alongside the Durham County Poets upbeat Hand Me Down Blues, Michael Jerome Browne’s guitar lick showcase That’s Where It’s At, and Big Dave’s McLean’s excellent, good-naturedly grouchy Pocket Full Of Nothin.’
Whitehorse – “St. James Infirmary” (The Northern South Vol. 2)
Big Dave McLean – “You’ve Been Told” (Pocket Full Of Nothin’)
Dawn Tyler Watson – “Alligator” (Mad Love)
Durham County Poets – “With A Little Help From My Friends” (Hand Me Down Blues)
Michael Jerome Browne – “Pharoah” (That’s Where It’s At”)
Pop Album of the Year
There’s some powerful stuff in this year’s Pop category. Still mourning the death of the recent passing of member longtime member Mike “Beard Guy” Taylor, Walk Off The Earth came back with a bright and affirming pop-rock record, while Avril Lavigne’s post-Lyme Disease comeback is a moving blend of gospel and soft-rock.
Alessia Cara’s vulnerable lyrics are as relatable as ever in her coming-of-age sophomore effort The Pains of Growing, and bülow’s chilly Crystalline evokes Lord and Billy Eilish. And Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine’s debut 8:47 combines strong hooks with frank lyrics and impressive vocals.
Avril Lavigne – “Warrior” (Head Above Water)
Walk Off The Earth – “I’ll Be There” (HERE WE GO!)
Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine – “Better Off” (8:47)
bülow – “Word Smith” (Crystalline)
Alessia Cara – “Easier Said” (The Pains of Growing)
Country Album of the Year
This one’s a fun category, with lots of fun songs (and a few tearjerkers) from Dallas Smith, Meghan Patrick, Dean Brody, Aaron Goodvin, Dallas Smith and Hunter Brothers.
Dallas Smith – “Drop” (The Fall)
Meghan Patrick – “Praying Right” (Wild As Me)
Dean Brody – “Black Sheep” (Black Sheep)
Hunter Brothers – Country State of Mind (State of Mind)
Aaron Goodvin – “Good Ol’ Bad Days” (V)
Tell me in the comments:
- Who are your favourite Canadian artists or bands?
- Who were your picks for this year’s JUNO Awards?