The Sound of November 2021: This Month's Essential Listening
Must-hear music from James Blake, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, PinkPantheress and more
Published Nov 03, 2021If the winter blues haven't set in yet, they surely will by the time November is over. As we all dig into our trove of self-soothing tools, perhaps these warm and emotive new releases might help. Here is the sound of November 2021 — best experienced on Sonos. Also be sure to check out highlights from all these releases in our Spotify playlist, updated monthly.
afternoon bike ride
afternoon bike ride
(Friends of Friends)
Across their self-titled debut, Montreal trio David Tanton, Éloi Le Blanc-Ringuette and Lia Kurihara harken back to the album's genesis: an idea shared among friends hanging out on an apartment rooftop. This sense of home, bathed in soft morning light, is the current running through the collaboration-forward tracklist of lo-fi dream-pop.
Standout track: "Sunday Sketch"
Eradicating the "Sunday scaries" in one fell swoop, afternoon bike ride craft a crystalline daydream of tomorrow — "When the sun kisses my eyes awake."
Calgary songwriter Matthew Swann blends graceful, ornate folk rock arrangements — including some backing vocal cameos from Julie Doiron — with nihilistic musings like, "Sometimes at the bottom of a spiral / Is just more spiral," and, "All the stars I wish upon / Brought me more oblivion." The performances are far more meticulous than Astral Swans' minimalistic past works, but the jet-black sense of humour is the same. Read our recent discussion with Swan about how cannabis influences his music.
Standout track: "End of the World (Missing You)"
With plinky guitar twang, bloopy synth squiggles and sugared '60s pop harmonies, it would be easy to bop along to the infectious beat and ignore hilariously gloomy lyrics like "All is love and love is all / Lost 'em both, now I'm back on benzodiazepine / Yeah, yeah, yeah."
This instrumental Montreal trio transplant the emotive atmospherics of post-rock and the riff-driven melancholia of grunge into tightly wound post-punk. Their self-titled debut manages to wring meditative and heartfelt affect out of instrumental sketches, pushing Broken Social Scene's "post-rock gone pop" concept into even cozier confines.
Standout track: "beethoven - seattle bongos"
Ignore the Mad Lib-esque title, since this track evokes neither classical nor the Pacific Northwest — with jangling guitars and a steady build recalling the likes of Spoon and Explosions in the Sky, respectively, it's more Austin than Seattle.
On their fifth LP, BADBADNOTGOOD reconnect with their early jazz-fused influences for an album that shows them impressively finding the groove in the most intricate and intensive manner. Talk Memory finds the trio working with likeminded collaborators ready to challenge and complement them at every turn, resulting in a new evolution for the outfit. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Talk Meaning" (feat. Terrace Martin, Brandee Younger and Arthur Verocai)
Combining the trio's kinetic groove with Martin's saxophone, Younger's harp and Verocai's strings, this six-minute jam comes off wildly busy but sonically and dynamically fulfilling.
Friends That Break Your Heart
The follow-up to 2019's Assume Form sees James Blake continuing in a similar vein of collaborations and experiments across the pop spectrum, delivering crooning streams of consciousness that lay bare his thoughts for the world to hear. The album borders on the edge of manic sonic intrepidity but often opts for balladry and emotiveness. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Famous Last Words"
Plucky synthesisers, lush strings, and a sublime, soaring vocal performance: this is James Blake at his measured and melancholic best.
Cuntry Covers Vol. 1
Bria — Bria Salmena and Duncan Hay Jennings, of FRIGS and Orville Peck's backing band — whittle country classics to their essence, making over traditional heartache in a variety of shaggy, broad-stroke styles. Their covers are pained and invigorating, finding new ways to express old, dust-blown feelings. Country music is about heart, after all. Read our interview with Bria about the new wave of Canadian alt-country.
Standout track: "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore"
The duo's drum-machine- and synth-driven cover of the Walker Brothers' classic is a low-riding highlight, a bleary, vocal-stacked reimagining that deserves a spot on your next road-trip playlist.
Choses Sauvages II
Longtime fans of the Montreal outfit from their prog-rock days of old might be surprised at their current laser-focus on the sounds of disco, but Choses Sauvages II retains every bit of their trademark adventurousness. Clocking at just under an hour. It'll get your dance floor stamina back in no time.
Standout track: "Chambre d'écho"
Kraftwerk's experimental synthpop plod may have channelled driving on the highway under more probable conditions, but the funky guitars and sharp percussion of Choses Sauvages's "Chambre d'écho" feel like zipping by at breakneck speed with nobody else in sight. Buckle up.
Coeur de pirate
Impossible à aimer
Coeur de pirate continues to exceed expectations as one of Quebec's finest musicians with masterful music production and devotion to her art and career. On Impossible à aimer, there's a longing for more vulnerability and experimenting — less mass-produced hits and more piano pieces. She's getting there, slowly but surely. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Une chanson brisée"
This sad breakup song featuring only Béatrice Martin and her piano makes for an interesting choice as an opening for a disco-pop album. She makes herself vulnerable and close to her fanbase, and manages to get a few tears out.
Every Time I Die
With one of the most uncompromising and sophisticated discographies in heavy music, it's hardly surprising that Every Time I Die move into their third decade of existence with an emphasis on refinement and range over unnecessary risks. Rather than fix what isn't broken, Radical finds the group doubling down and levelling-up their expansive, swaggering metalcore in every way possible. Read our full review.
Standout track: "All This and War"
This one has all the makings of another ETID party anthem: breakneck tempo, pneumatic rhythms, frontman Keith Buckley and '68's Josh Scogin shrieking about blood and history and the endurance of war. Oh, and there's cowbell too.
Capturing songs Liz Harris has been working on for 15 years — nearly as long as Grouper has been active — Shade feels like a career in focus. Harris has found a new stream to navigate, but with distance, it's clear Grouper doesn't have to commit to one world or another to enjoy their comforts. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Unclean Mind"
Joining the vocal clarity of recent piano Grouper albums with the spare acoustic ruminations of the project's early records, Harris unveils a new voice.
Using the largest modular synthesizer in the world, Canadian composer and multi-instrumentalist Robin Hatch channels neoclassical, new wave, pop and prog rock styles and structures, creating instrumental vignettes in which the assembly of wood and wires speaks to our deepest thoughts and feelings — the music of our minds. Read our interview with Hatch.
Standout track: "Inspector" (feat. Lowell Whitty)
Drummer Whitty keeps beat through a slew of time signature changes, in step with a racing chiptune synth as Hatch's keyboard melody ducks and dives in between.
Folk-country has rarely sounded as honest, delicate, intimate and elevated as on Lauren Spear's debut LP as Le Ren. The Montreal-based songstress perfects her craft on Leftovers, a collection of explorations on the nature of love — platonic, romantic, familial and otherwise. Spear's earnest lyricism captures both the universal and personal, making for a heart wrenching and melancholy affair and placing her among the ranks of Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Feist. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Your Cup"
Written for Spear's partner, the deeply tender outing that is "Your Cup" renders its listeners bleary-eyed but emotionally awakened. Poignant and timeless, the song is pure in its reflections on domestic romance.
I've Felt All These Things
On her debut album, Stockholm-born Anna Leone lures listeners in with soulful vocals and the gentle caress of acoustic guitar. Each track blends into the next seamlessly, like waves crashing and receding, in a feat of perfect cohesion. The indie-folk singer's record is poised to play while the credits roll, embodying the bittersweetness of endings.
Standout track: "Still I Wait"
Leone's vocals reach an ethereal peak amidst finger-picked guitar as she questions, "When will I bear my soul?" — whether she's asking herself or expelling it into the sky, we may never know.
Lil Wayne and Rich the Kid
Trust Fund Babies
The release of Trust Fund Babies sees era-defining legend Lil Wayne teaming up with the industry-savvy Rich the Kid for unexpectedly solid results. Here, both artists address the naysayers while having fun and focusing on the music. It's this visceral sense of relief and the quality of the bangers they cooked up that make this farfetched team-up much more than a throwaway mixtape. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Big Boss"
Weezy and Rich the Kid seamlessly meld their off-kilter vocal tones and deliveries on production that is as smooth as Henny on the rocks.
Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo
Magdalena Bay are cross-generational, cross-genre, cross-platform pop magicians, and the duo's debut full-length is a neon-hued smorgasbord of airtight melodies and sugary climaxes. Yet it plays more like a psych-rock record than a traditional pop album, moving in sweeping, interconnected suites that combine retro-pop grandeur with a decidedly modern, internet-incubated sheen. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Hysterical Us"
"Hysterical Us" is the towering highlight of Mercurial World's swirling back half, a coiled, lavender-tinged ode to shared anxieties that feels like decades of pop perfection siphoned into four transcendent minutes.
An EP so nice she recorded it twice, Safia Nolin has given each of SEUM's four songs a rock band "sunset" version and acoustic "sunrise" version to showcase the adaptability of her songwriting. No matter your preferred time of day, Nolin's haunting vocals and captivating melodies pull focus.
Standout track: "PLS - sunset version"
It may start off as "sunset" with its folk rock wistfulness, but it's giving off "witching hour" by the end with its noisy death metal growls.
Frame of a Fauna
(Born Twice / Lighter Than Air)
Frame of a Fauna presents a compelling archive of Ouri's many musical personas. First-time listeners will certainly find somewhere to stand on the Montreal producer's spectrum of sound, whether it be the Aphex Twin-influenced breakbeats or the alt-classical compositions. This debut album is a nuanced encapsulation of her sound from underground DJ to fully-rounded composer. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Shape of It"
"Shape of It" sets Ouri's lyrics over a trembling string composition that builds into an assured chorus as she recites the mantric chorus, "I care for mine / that's what I find the most freeing / so I care for mine." Vocals fade, the din of a crowd develops and a dissonant orchestra wraps everything with a gut-wrenching tailspin.
to hell with it
The UK hyperpop producer and TikTok sensation joins the Parlophone roster for her debut mixtape, which features the wildly popular "Just for me," a song hailed by both the video-sharing platform and (former) label mainstays Coldplay. The 20-year-old master of viral hits douses her debut with a heavy dose of '00s fantasy, syphoning all the best aesthetic elements of her birth-decade's dance music — including far-flung samples from the likes of Crystal Waters and Linkin Park — into a bite-sized 20 minutes.
Standout track: "I must apologise"
Harnessing the catchy force of Waters' "la-da-dee" '90s house banger, PinkPantheress reworks "Gypsy Woman" with equally memorable measure, offering self-reflective lyrics on the way she navigates personal relationships: "They say I should be honest more, one day I'm sure / I'll figure out the reason I was telling lies for."
Nanjing-born Vancouver artist Sad China turns darkness into light on their debut full-length. Like other hyperpop albums made during the pandemic, ilyimy ("I love you, I miss you") is about wanting to sing and dance with friends and touch each other's faces. But more than that, ilyimy captures Sad China's shifting ideas of community — how it can create a false sense of safety, and what true support looks like to them now. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Toxic (friends)"
On ilyimy's most restless track, Sad China preaches community over competition, and newcomer JERRYCHERRY lays bilingual rap verses over tunnelling, tumbling electronics.
Leslie Ken Chu
Said the Whale
Vancouver's Said the Whale are indie mainstays for good reason, but they take nothing for granted and enter a new realm of sonic elevation on their seventh album. You can hear the sheer thoughtfulness put into each cinematic arc of Dandelion's succinct runtime; not a wasted word — or flourish. Read our recent interview with the band.
Standout track: "February 15"
In collaboration with members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, this stirring, sumptuous instrumental is the first-ever song from the band written primarily by keyboardist Jaycelyn Brown.
Snotty Nose Rez Kids
Kendrick Lamar's not the only one who followed up two highly conceptual hip-hop records with a relatively pared-back fourth album that laid bare the strength of his rhymes. Following up their back-to-back Polaris Music Prize shortlisted albums, the Rez Kids' jovial exuberance and reference-laden words have never sounded more effortless. Read our recent interview with the duo.
Standout track: "Something Else"
A response to CNN labeling Indigenous people as "something else" during an election night voter demographic breakdown, the Rez Kids spit furious verses asserting their identities over a bed of Spanish guitar.
Songwrights Apothecary Lab
Spalding's Songwrights Apothecary Lab is an album of compositions written in consultation with music therapists and neuroscientists, each of which aims to "enhance a specific salutary affect" within the listener. Healing music is not a new concept, but the power of the composer's work with Raphael Saadiq, Wayne Shorter and more is undeniable.
Standout track: "Formwela 3"
Spalding has written that this "Formwela" was composed "for releasing the heaviness of a seemingly endless blue state," a state achieved through its dynamic outro.
Strand of Oaks
Timothy Showalter, a.k.a. Strand of Oaks, is at the peak of his powers. In Heaven expertly showcases the Philadelphia artist's gift for crafting anthems, bending elements of folk and rock to his will in bold fashion. A labour of love, the tracks carve out a space for listeners to experience catharsis.
Standout track: "Sister Saturn"
Diving right into rock, the track is packed with synth and electric guitar to carry the raw vocals along. The retro vibe thrives off Showalter's world-weary, Kerouacian lyrics.
The Florida brother duo return with another helping of their Grateful Dead-inspired psych rock in their 18th album Petunia, a seven-song collection of improv-heavy solos and '70s-esque falsetto vocalizations. Edwin and Andy White embody their signature live experience throughout, giving a platform to "skeletons" of tunes they've previously tested onstage. Grooves abound!
Standout track: "Smilehenge"
The seven-minute album closer morphs and shifts at its halfway point, offering up Beach Boys-inspired vocal patterns, sludgy rock riffs and lyrics about packing up and moving on — the perfect end to a clandestine trip through the White brothers' universe.
In the Court of the Dragon
On their 10th studio album — and third in the last four years — the Orlando metalcore outfit maintain creative momentum with a striking mix of their trademark aggression and tactful nods to prog and power metal. Through the huge melodic hooks and mythological lyricism, Trivium sound confident and collected in their grandiosity.
Standout track: "The Shadow of the Abattoir"
The album's midpoint epic opens with a Maiden-esque clean guitar melody that teases its soaring chorus, before a bridge loaded with forceful screams and dizzying solos.
On the surface, Tunic's breakneck music is pitch-black, brutal, unrelenting. But beneath all the shell-shocked pummelling is a thoughtful, deeply personal record about big changes and shifting perspectives — Quitter takes moments of quiet anxiety and blows them up to monstrous proportions, a whiplash-inducing soundtrack for pushing against your worst habits. Read our recent interview with the band.
Standout track: "Apprehension"
"Apprehension" covers a lot of ground in its scorching two-minute runtime, a constantly-mutating ripper that tilts the band's caustic hardcore into the realm of off-balance art-punk.
New York has long held prominence in Wiki's music, but seldom in a fashion like that of third solo LP Half God. The Navy Blue-produced album is a poetic reflection of city and self, for which he scrawls accounts of city life and admonitions for the faces and forces changing it.
Standout track: "Roof"
Wiki's lone verse is a monologue from the New York City skyline, first looking inward, and then outward: "I see a million faces beneath me racing."
The debut album from the onetime American Idol hopeful (who made it to the second round of auditions as a teen in 2014) stuffs pop hooks into a confetti cannon and blasts them out in the form of funk, hip-hop and cheerleader chants. It's an everything-all-the-time extravaganza, as Wolf is the kind of artist who will include a joke about "two fish kissing on my clit, motherfucker" in a song about alcoholism and emotional dependency.
Best track: "Street You Live On"
While Wolf often favours shock and humour in her lyrics, the mid-tempo breakup anthem "Street You Live On" plays it devastatingly straight in this all-too-relatable account of avoiding an ex's house in an attempt to suppress the heartbreak.
The Cost of Doing Business
Tokyo Police Club keyboardist/guitarist Graham Wright delivers a no-nonsense collection of garage rock bops full of hooks and heart. With lyrics that are sometimes funny (chickening out when considering killing baby Hitler on "My Time Machine Worked!") and sometimes almost embarrassingly real (discussing TPC's near-miss with indie rock coolness on "Sub Pop"), The Cost of Doing Business feels like a conversation with a particularly witty and forthright friend. Wright and TPC bandmate Dave Monks recently assessed each other's albums; read it here.
Best track: "Bridget"
The opening lyrics perfectly set the scene: "Me and Bridget had a deal / If I turn 40 and she turns 40 / And we're not married yet / You know what I mean." What follows is a sweet, sensitive story of mutual hurt feelings and the disintegration of a relationship that never really existed.
Jasper Sloan Yip
Strange Calm / Blushing Autumn
More than a decade since his debut album, Vancouver songwriter Jasper Sloan Yip continues to hone his elegant folk pop sound. The double EP Strange Calm / Blushing Autumn moves patiently through a series of quiet meditations full of stately piano and Yip's peaceful croon. The two halves were recorded separately, but they flow together seamlessly into one 10-song collection of cozy ballads. A little bit sad, a little bit soothing, it's as autumnal as the title would suggest.
Best track: "On the Beach"
Every song on Strange Calm / Blushing Autumn is beautifully placid — but Strange Calm closer "On the Beach" has a bounce in its step, as piano chords swagger and strut while ghostly harmonies add sense of melancholy lurking in the background.
Listen to all of these standout tracks in our Spotify playlist: