As COVID-19 continues to affect huge swaths of society, Toronto’s musicians are struggling. With the concert scene at a complete standstill, artists need album sales now more than ever. On March 20, online music platform Bandcamp is waiving its revenue share (until 3 am), giving all royalties to artists. (UPDATE: Bandcamp has announced it will waive fees for artists on sales of their music again on May 1.)
We asked a cross-section of the city’s musicians, many of whom are struggling due to cancelled concerts themselves, to recommend some of their favourite albums. Click the links on the album names to go to their Bandcamp pages.
Simone Schmidt (Fiver)
Fiver & the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition’s new EP, You Wanted Country? Vol. 1 is officially coming out April 3 but has dropped on Bandcamp two weeks early. Get it here and find Fiver songwriter Schmidt’s picks for what else to buy below.
Jeremy Costello is in the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition, can play synth and sing like no other. Highly recommend Stoner Nights Vol. 2.
When I was a kid my sister had a Crash Vegas CD and sung along to Red Earth obsessively. I never thought I’d know Michelle as an adult. Her solo work is beautiful.
Lance (Aquakultre) put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life – twice. His new recordings feature my bandmates Nick and Jeremy and this great drummer, Nate Doucet, but his older stuff is a good eye-opener.
Toronto producer Paul Chin’s new EP Full Spectrum is out today (get it here). In lieu of his planned album release show at the Rivoli, he’ll be doing a livestreamed DJ set on Saturday, March 21, at 3 pm. Tune in here.
Elaquent: Forever Is A Pretty Long Time
The latest and greatest from my big brother, longtime supporter and a huge reason I even produce. Elaquent has had like five shows cancelled or postponed (including opening for my own postponed release show), which is a shame considering he just dropped a masterclass in producer-driven rap albums.
Madison just had to cancel/postpone a string of dates and has a European tour still up in the air. She’s one of the hardest working independent artists I know, and she’s the very model of developing a DIY career built on real human connection rather than algorithm-generated content masquerading as a personality. And, as the cherry on top, the EP was produced entirely by her and her brother Taylor (another favourite of mine).
Eytan – one of the head honchos at Bedroomer – is one of the best DJs in the city, and he has to grind twice as hard because he makes weird club music in a city whose entire music infrastructure doesn’t exactly reward that. He just dropped a three-track EP last month with some great rave music for nerds, and it deserves some support while he’s gonna be away from the decks.
Singer/songwriter Charlotte Cornfield has a new EP, In My Corner, out today (link here). She picks three tracks from some of her favourite Toronto artists.
Eliza Niemi: If My Songs Made You Cry
The last time I saw Eliza play I found myself saying “whoa!” out loud without even realizing it. She writes beautiful, personal, relatable songs with simple arrangements that just cut right to the chase. This one is my fave.
The imagery and arrangements in this song weave together so beautifully. Rachael Cardiello is a brilliant writer and Zinnia is the realization of her clear vision. Lupins transports me to a whole other place.
Evan is one of those artists who is completely immune to outside noise. He just does his thing, and it’s real and vulnerable and it’s all his own. This song is a testament to that – almost a field recording of a clear emotion captured in time.
Montreal rapper Naya Ali was set to play Canadian Music Week this summer before it was postponed (she hopes to be there in September). In the meantime, her debut album Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude) is out today.
Burna Boy is so smooth. Being a hip-hop artist myself, he’s one of my favourite artists that allow me to cleanse my auditory palate. I believe he’s the one that locked in the perfect hybrid between Afropop and dancehall. There’s no one that sounds like him, and that’s a major key to be a timeless artist.
Amazing producer who I worked with on the Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude) album. He brings a refreshing sound and is one of the next ups for sure.
Veteran local singer/songwriter has surprise-released Songs From The Apartment, a digital-only album of songs recorded solo at home. He makes a couple of picks of Toronto artists.
Aaron was supposed to be on our 28-show European tour playing guitar (he’s also a current member of Skydiggers, who also had dates cancelled), which of course has been postponed for now. He also had his studio, the Trailer, recently shut down and he very kindly helped clean up the rough tracks of my surprise raw album Songs From The Basement. A few years back, he released this ambitious five-album set called Exile. It’s all instrumental, beautiful and a great companion in this time of our forced seclusion.
A local singer/songwriter who not only had to cancel shows, but his side job is on hold too, as many musicians have to have a side hustle to keep it going. His last album, Topaz, is one of those great albums that you get into more and more on repeated listenings. Another great record when you’re spending more time at home, hanging around and listening to inspiring music.
Toronto-born, L.A.-based art-pop artist, whose latest album Cape God is out now. She still has deep connections here and picked some of her talented friends.
Spencer is a drummer first but wrote this album for reproducing piano. It’s inspired by the artwork of Annie Pootoogook, an Inuk artist known for her beautiful pen and coloured pencil drawings. This album is beautiful and will ease your mind.
Thomas: When I’m Weak I’m Strong
I’m sure the readers of NOW know Thom Gill, who is one of the most respected musicians in Toronto and has played in more bands and projects than anyone can keep track of. His style always shines through whatever he does. Thomas is his solo project, and this album is one of my favs, but they’re all good.
Welcome to Tryal, the solo project of extraordinary vocalist and musician Alex Samaras. I’ve had the privilege of singing with Alex, and I remember feeling so supported by his rich voice. He is an incredible musician and presence to be around and witness in performance. Familiarize yourself!
A gorgeous album by Brooke Manning. Meditative, sexy, textured – something to get lost in. And ya, that image that is all over tumblr is her photo.
Bram is one of the best people, and a hell of a composer! I have always thought of him as a modern day Sondheim. Not sure if he wants that label, but I mean it as a big compliment. I miss you, Bram.
PUP were scheduled to play CMW as part of their usual breakneck tour schedule. You can get their newest album Morbid Stuff (one of our favourites of last year) on Bandcamp here. Lead singer Stefan Babcock sent us his picks.
Ellis: Born Again (pre-order)
During this crisis, my heart really goes out to smaller bands, especially those with new records whose release plans have been totally derailed. Two examples are Ellis and Ratboys, both amazing artists on the rise with brand new records and – suddenly – limited resources and opportunities to promote those albums. Please support them. It’s absolutely heartbreaking and these albums need to be heard.
Although his record isn’t new, I’ve also added my friend Drew to this list for a few reasons. First, because his record is awesome. Second, because this band grinds it out trying to make ends meet and they just had to cancel a month’s worth of shows, two weeks after having all their gear stolen at our gig in Houston. It’s been a really rough ride for them the past month, and I’m sure they could use some love.
Ellis, the project of Hamilton singer/songwriter Linnea Siggelkow, is one of the artists we spoke to for a piece about COVID-19’s effect on independent artists. Her debut album Born Again is out April 3, and you can pre-order it on Bandcamp. She picked “three artists brutally impacted by the pandemic who could use your help.”
A sick record about standing up against the political right – something we need now more than ever.
The tightest band I’ve ever seen live, and some of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet.
Anna [Horvath] has the literal voice of angel. I could listen to her sing forever.
Choir! Choir! Choir!
Choir! Choir! Choir! represent the beauty and catharsis of many voices joining together, and during this period of social distancing they’ve found a way to do it virtually. They’ll host their second livestream singalong tomorrow (Saturday, March 21) at 3 pm here. Co-leader Nobu Adilman has his debut solo album (as Mister Nobu) coming out March 27 on Arts & Crafts (which is also giving 100 per cent of sales to artists today). Pre-order here and see his picks.
These times are crushing on every level. I get so sad when I see news of another postponed gig or cancelled tour because I know how much work goes into setting them up and the loss of income for so many down the line. I have a new record coming out at the end of the month but won’t be able to celebrate it with a live show for now. It’s hard but, of course, staying home is the right thing to do, and thankfully there’s so much incredible music out there to lift our spirits, calm our nerves or, simply, to keep us all company. Here are some artists I’m listening to.
MorMor: Some Place Else
I can’t stop listening to his latest.
She’s releasing a new album that you should check out and had to cancel a tour. (Choir! Choir! Choir! collaborated with her years ago, and it was so fun.)
Start with Sliencia but then dive into their full catalogue. They will keep your pulse rate on an even keel.
Andy Shauf’s been postponing dates on the tour for his new album, The Neon Skyline, which is set at the Skyline restaurant in Parkdale (oh, how we wish we could go there now). His album and merch are for sale at Bandcamp. He’s a man of few words (except in his songs), so he just sent picks.
U.S. Girls recently released the great new album Heavy Light, but had to postpone the U.S. dates of the tour. The concert at the Great Hall on May 16 is still TBD. ” I guarantee if you buy these albums, you will still be listening to them this time next year,” says Meg Remy. “Enjoy!”
Badge Époque Ensemble: Nature, Man & Woman
Mourning [A] BLKstar: The Cycle
The Polaris Prize winner’s long-awaited new album Miss Colombia is finally out on April 17. Unfortunately, she’ll likely have to put off some of her touring plans. Pick up her picks.
Vocal-led Toronto psych-folk ensemble just announced the new album No Earthly Sound, which comes out April 17. Pre-order it and listen to the first single here. Singer Neil Haverty makes some selections below.
Recently had the chance to see TiKA perform and she is a force of nature on the mic. She’s just finishing up in the music lab at the Canadian Film Centre, so I think we’ll start hearing her songs in lots of film and television shows, and I can’t wait.
This is one of the best Toronto bands going. Their full-length record still gets lots of play at my house, years later, and I’m floored by every new track they put out. No better time to dance around your apartment than now, right?
I’m always looking for calm and pensive piano music and Alexandra Stréliski is a recent obsession. Things are moving at a panicked pace lately, so it’s nice to slow down and listen to a talented musician play a beautiful instrument whenever possible.
Victoria Cheong of New Chance (and also Healing Power Records) has had a bunch of things cancelled at once, including a tour with Chandra, her own shows and some performance work. She’s laying low for now, but working on some new music. She picked two artists who’ve had to reschedule tours because of COVID-19.
I decided to pick some releases that I find beautiful. What is beauty? I’ve been thinking about looking at this question more specifically in my own artistic work, but I’m not quite sure how yet. My YouTube astrologer says that the purpose of beauty is to inspire us to live.
Lexxicon’s album Bashment Trap House came out on January 31. AfroWave, the series he founded, is on hold, but he’s still representing reggaeton and Afrobeat as part of the diversity of the local music scene.
My picks represent where the Toronto urban music scene has been, is currently, and where it is going in the future. This current climate of social distancing means that post-corona everyone will be more than ready to be outside to enjoy life and culture again. R&B has been a strong contender in the city’s urban music scene, where currently hip-hop is the reigning champion, and I believe the reggaeton/Afrobeats movement will be its successor. In the meantime, while were stuck inside, support these amazing upcoming independent artists.
I love what Haviah stands for and the barriers she has broken so far, and I want her to keep rising blazing a trail for us other indie artists. Her resilience and power is the strength we should harness to get through this crisis.
Flavia uses her Colombian and French-Canadian identity to bring a different sound to the Toronto music scene. This uptempo record it just what we need in our moments of escapism.
Bringing some missing soul to the current R&B landscape, this duo will give you the right vibe for some much-needed self-care time.
Pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo’s new album The Offering comes out May 25. In the meantime, his residency at the Rex is on hold. He gave us some jazz picks.
Christian Scott: Ancestral Recall
My favourite album from the Grammy jazz category this year and one of my favourite jazz artists. Would be a great listening album front to back while spending time quarantined.
Great piano player whose style I admire. On a recent trip to NYC last month, I got a chance to spend some time with him and take in some writing ideas.
I was supposed to go to his concert tonight (March 18, 2020) in Toronto. Have been looking forward to seeing him for a while and completely bummed I’m going to have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, he’ll be on heavy rotation.
Toronto kulintang-pop-R&B-punk group Pantayo‘s new album comes out May 8 on Telephone Explosion. They played the Women From Space festival shortly before all the concerts were cancelled, but their upcoming shows are on hold.
Kimmortal had to cancel their Spring shows 🙁
And these ones we are currently digging right now, so it would be awesome to support them!
Beverly Glenn-Copeland: Primal Prayer
Jim Guthrie: Sword & Sworcery LP
Maya Killtron / The Precious Lo’s: Fired Up + More Than Friends
Singer/songwriter/Canadian music veteran Lou Canon’s new album Audomatic Body is out May 29 on Paper Bag Records. Her latest single is Ancient Chamber.
Here are three albums to keep you company in your isolation. For the moment, I’m thankful that we live in a digital world, where we can do our best to stay connected and to support one another. Let us embrace the arts to get through these wildly unknown, difficult times.
Legal Vertigo: Tragic Future Film Star
Jaunt: Delighted To Be Spoken To
R Grunwald is a regular around the Toronto music scene, but he’s just released his debut solo piano album, Oma.
Nick Zubeck: Magnetic Variations
Nick Zubeck is a wonderful guitarist who I have made music with for the past 20 years. He is a wonderful musician and this new project he just released is all instrumental and consists of field recordings as well as synthesizers and tape machines. A very cool and creative album.
JV’s Boogaloo Squad: Going To Market
Joel and this crew of Toronto heavy hitters are badass musicians, and this record is super funky and fun. Brings back the sounds of Jimmy Smith in the best way possible.
I was introduced to this guy by my producer friend James Bunton, who was mixing a new track for him. When he played me the tune I was blown away! Then he showed me the video for this tune and that was it. I was sold. Check this guy out!
Juno-winner Laila Biali‘s new album, Out Of Dust, is out next Friday (March 27) and her release shows in Ottawa (was supposed to happen this Saturday, March 21) and Toronto (next Saturday, March 28) unfortunately were cancelled because of the pandemic. “Kudos to Bandcamp for standing in solidarity with musicians in this unprecedented time,” she says.
In days like these music is what gets us through, and the Bandcamp catalogue is filled with brilliant artists whose songs will make your day better, guaranteed.
Elizabeth Shepherd: Montreal
My top pick would be Canada’s Elizabeth Shepherd and her groundbreaking concept album, Montreal, which got a 2020 JUNO nomination for vocal jazz album of the year. For this project, Elizabeth interviewed dozens of residents across Montreal’s neighbourhoods and shaped songs from their stories. It’s socially relevant and beautifully crafted music.
Another artist I highly recommend. Hers is some of the most creative and smart songwriting you’ll ever hear.