Following the feature from earlier this week that chronicled what I consider to be my 20 favorite Canadian albums released across 2023, it was an incredible challenge to whittle the list down to just four finalists. Country music releases may have been a dominant force in my Top 20 list, but somehow the genre did not progress any further as I endured plenty of head scratching and soul searching to meet the objective. So here they are – my Favorite Four Canadian Albums of the Year, with one hard fought and incredibly amazing victor.
Runner Up: Various Artists, “Sonny Don’t Go Away: A Tribute To Ron Hynes”
Of the 20 albums shortlisted for my year-end honors, this gorgeous tribute to the music of the legendary Newfoundland troubadour was always going to be a lock for the final four. Co-produced by (and with contributions from) Alan Doyle and Cory Tetford, the album brings together a who’s-who of musicians all hailing from the Rock, and who collectively share a selection of popular and lesser-known Hynes tunes. “For all the people who knew and loved Ron, this will be an emotional and important tribute to him,” shared Doyle when first announcing the album. “This is just 20 songs. We could easily do 20 more.”
Runner Up: Joan Smith & The Jane Does, “Do Me Some Harm”
As an old rocker at heart, I’ve enjoyed watching this Toronto-based alt-rock band since first encountering their debut “Normalize” album in 2018, making the arrival of their sophomore album extra special when landing in my lap a few months back. Smith whet our appetites frequently during the pandemic with a series of kick-ass single releases and collates them all nicely on this album to accompany some brand-new tunes. Check out the slower cut “Harm,” in particular, and make sure to revisit her distinct Robert Plant vibes on “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” Play ‘em all LOUD!
Runner Up: Hyaenas, “Little Trophy”
Full disclosure: this album was destined for my Final Four the moment it was released back in February and represents the first EP (is it technically an EP at 6 tracks plus an intro?) to smash the barrier prohibiting non-full-length albums on these year-end lists. Yes – this one is pretty special – even my 2023 Spotify Wrapped recap unanimously agreed, declaring this my most streamed album by a long shot. Loving this blast of retro 80s synth-rock nirvana, “Little Trophy” was a serious contender for taking home the grand prize this year, only to be outmaneuvered by a late ringer as the final votes were counted.
2023 Winner: Thierry Larose, “Sprint!”
Back in 2019, Nova Scotian Leanne Hoffman was crowned the winner of the GDW Album of the Year – an artist little known to us, but whose debut “What Remains” release proved a solid victor for the annual honors. Here in 2023, we have a sense of déjà vu – with Québécois artist Thierry Larose landing on our listening radar this past February, and quickly earning our attention enroute to taking home all the marbles. Unlike 2019, however, this time around we have a sophomore album, and one that had the arduous, almost impossible task of following his excellent 2021 “Cantalou” debut.
Blending pop influences with indie-rock and traditional chanson music, Thierry masterfully weaves literary references into his moving, tempered songs (“Baleine et moi (take 10)” is a poignant short conversation with a marooned whale) and probes our own relationship to fiction. “Sprint!” comes wrapped in deliberate lo-fi tones, hitting the senses from the opening moments of “Portrait d`une Marianne” through to the album end – and ultimately marks the second time that a French language album has taken home the GDW prize (previously achieved by Jill Barber in 2020).
A lock for the Top 20 list, it would be an impulse ticket purchase to see Thierry perform live as part of Le Roy, la Rose et le Lou[p] just last month that provided us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a selection of album tracks – reimagined with co-vocalists Ariane Roy and Lou-Adriane Cassidy, and backed by a seven-piece band. A euphoric concert experience, to say the least, this album has been spinning repeatedly in my car following that show and impresses more on every listen. A very worthy winner of the 2023 GDW Album of the Year.