1. Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004)
Win and Will Butler may have grown up in the United States, but their band is proudly Canadian, and their debut went a long way toward proving to the rest of the world that Montreal had become a major city for music.
2. Joni Mitchell, Blue (1971)
Joni Mitchell is one of the best singer-songwriters and folk guitarists of all time and has recorded several classic albums, but her 1971 breakthrough Blue is her most raw and emotional work.
3. The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema (2005)
The New Pornographers are the greatest power pop band of the 2000s, Canadian or otherwise, and this is their magnum opus. The album just overflows with hooks, from upbeat rockers like “Sing Me Spanish Techno” and “Jackie Dressed In Cobras” to the glorious ballads like “These Are the Fables” and “The Bleeding Heart Show.”
4. Sarah McLachlan, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (1993)
Long before she became better known for launching the Lilith Fair and in being in those incredibly depressing ads about helping abused animals, Sarah McLachlan was one of the best singer-songwriters of the early ’90s. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is a lot darker than her later work, and features some of her best songs, like “Hold On” and “Possession.”
5. Feist, Let It Die (2004)
Leslie Feist is blessed with one of the loveliest and most expressive voices of her generation. She’s best known for “1234” and The Reminder, but her most powerful record is Let It Die, which includes some of her most intimate and emotionally intense music.
6. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
Neil Young has written at least a dozen classic records, but Rust Never Sleeps is the one that best captures his signature style – a distinctive blend of incredibly loud guitars and plaintive, vulnerable vocals.
7. Destroyer, Destroyer’s Rubies (2006)
Dan Bejar of Destroyer is like Vancouver’s answer to Bob Dylan – a poetic trickster with a funny voice and a talent for penning songs that are as puzzling as they are profound. Most every Destroyer record is a gem, but the ragged and sprawling Rubies is the best place to start.
8. Drake, Take Care (2011)
It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of a major hip-hop star from Canada seemed impossible, but ex-Degrassi star Drake managed to pull it off. Drake didn’t just break into rap – he and his production partner Noah “40” Shebib established a moody, sensitive style that has become central to contemporary hip-hop.
9. Leonard Cohen, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)
Leonard Cohen is second only to Bob Dylan in setting the foundation for most male singer-songwriter music we know today. His debut, like the rest of his catalog, had a dour, melancholy sound, but if you listen to his words, you’ll notice that it’s also wise, witty, and sexy.
10. Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It In People (2002)
Sometimes it seems like half the musicians in Canada have at some point been a member of the Broken Social Scene collective. You Forgot It In People is the band’s breakthrough, and was crucial in building the country’s reputation as a major force in indie music in the early 2000s.
11. Tegan & Sara, The Con (2007)
Identical twin singer-songwriters Tegan & Sara have built a remarkable body of work, but The Con is the record where they perfected their style – direct, ultra-emotional lyrics with simple, insanely catchy hooks.
12. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, F♯ A♯ ∞ (1997)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s breakthrough album set the tone for the rest of their body of work – gorgeous instrumental rock that’s like a film score for the bleakest, most epic movie you’ve never seen.
13. Rush, 2112 (1976)
Rush are the almighty gods of prog rock, and 2112 is the record that established them as one of the most inventive and technically impressive rock bands of the ’70s.
14. Sloan, Twice Removed (1994)
Sloan is a rarity – a rock band in which each member is a hugely talented singer and songwriter. They’re beloved in Canada, but somewhat obscure everywhere else, which is a shame, since they’ve recorded several great albums. Twice Removed, their second record, is where they first hit their stride as a band.
15. Grimes, Visions (2012)
Claire Boucher, the electronic musician known as Grimes, is one of the most promising new artists from Canada. Visions, her second album, is one of those rare, special records that is as catchy as it is weird and formally inventive.
16. Alanis Morrissette, Jagged Little Pill (1995)
Alanis Morrissette’s first proper album is one of the biggest blockbusters of the ’90s, which is really saying something given how many massively popular records came out in that decade. It still holds up today; if anything, cuts like “You Oughta Know” and “All I Really Want” sound more aggressive and dramatic now than they did back in the day.
17. Peaches, The Teaches of Peaches (2000)
Peaches’ debut is gloriously trashy and sexually explicit, with the singer gleefully burning through punky dance numbers like “Fuck the Pain Away” and “AA XXX.” She basically defined the brief “electroclash” moment of the early ’00s, and opened the door for an entire decade of raunchy dance music. (Ke$ha should sent her a thank you note every week.)
18. Shania Twain, Come On Over (1997)
Shania Twain is Canada’s greatest country music star, and her staggeringly popular album Come On Over essentially set the template for most country pop you hear today, from Taylor Swift on through The Band Perry.
19. Metric, Live It Out (2005)
Emily Haines and her band Metric have cornered the market on tight, anthemic, socially conscious dance pop. Live It Out, their second record, is packed with songs that approach big ideas without losing touch with raw, human emotion.
20. K.D. Lang, Ingénue (1992)
K.D. Lang is not an obvious pop star – her music is hard to classify, but generally falls somewhere between country and cabaret – but Ingénue and its smash hit “Constant Craving” was powerful enough for her to break into the mainstream anyway.
21. Chromeo, Fancy Footwork (2007)
The dance duo Chromeo is like Canada’s answer to Daft Punk – funky, groovy, joyful club music, but with warm, human voices instead of cold, robotic kitsch.
22. Japandroids, Celebration Rock (2012)
Japandroids’ second album is loud, catchy, and inspirational – it’s only eight songs long, but each track is an ecstatic, fist-pumping anthem built for drunken sing alongs.
23. Avril Lavigne, Let Go (2002)
Go ahead and scoff, but Lavigne’s debut is highly influential, and a crucial record in the world of early ’00s mall rock. Also, you just can’t deny the greatness of a pop song like “Complicated.”
24. Rufus Wainwright, Want One (2003)
Rufus Wainwright belongs to a family of great Canadian musicians, but his success as a songwriter has nothing to do with nepotism. Want One, the first half of a two-part record, is where he best balances his refined, theatrical style with the sound of modern pop music.
25. Buffy Sainte-Marie, Little Wheel Spin and Spin (1966)
Buffy Sainte-Marie was a key artist in Canada’s folk scene in the ’60s, and though she never achieved the massive popularity of either Neil Young or Joni Mitchell, she has a very impressive body of work. Little Wheel Spin and Spin is one of her best and most commercially successful records.
26. Sum 41, All Killer No Filler
Again, you can go ahead and mock Sum 41, but All Killer No Filler stands as one of the defining albums of the pop-punk genre.
27. Owen Pallett, Heartland (2010)
Owen Pallett’s first album under his own name is a masterpiece of refined, conceptual pop. Musically, its orchestration is both minimal and bombastic, and lyrically, it’s a strange, highly meta story about a futuristic farmer who slowly realizes he’s at the center of a concept album by a musician named Owen Pallett.