The Sound of October 2021: This Month's Essential New Releases
Must-hear music from Lil Nas X, Arkells, Andy Shauf, Japanese Breakfast and more
Published Oct 06, 2021October is typically spooky season, but this month's essential new releases are anything but — they're warm and inviting, traversing the spectrum of genre to give listeners a helping hand during the last glimmers of sunshine, before we're collectively plunged into the depths of winter. Here is the sound of October 2021 — best experienced on Sonos.
Travelling inward to further her personal growth is the overarching theme of this eight-track project recorded between Montreal and Toronto. Making a significant departure from the more accessible pop stylings of her debut Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude), Naya Ali has elevated her rap game with this mature offering. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Air Ali"
Opener "Air Ali" sets the bar and gets the listener ready for takeoff. Assertive in her raspy delivery, Ali raps, "Lately I've been feeling so low, but I'ma be right / Ain't no more feelings involved, I'm gonna take flight."
Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo
Angels & Airwaves
Tom DeLonge has always offered towering, timeless pop melodies in his singular voice — but instead of Blink-182's pop-punk, Lifeforms goes interstellar with sci-fi arpeggiators and dance rock crescendos. Even when the grooves and instrumentation are miles away from his most famous work, the choruses always sound unmistakably like DeLonge. DeLonge recently took the Exclaim! Questionnaire.
Standout track: "Losing My Mind"
There's something oddly comforting about hearing DeLonge sneer, "There's idiots abound and they're all fuckin' racist," showing that even the Crown Prince of Bestiality Jokes is willing to take a stand against the alt-right.
Here's the one time we'll advise going against @canadamusicmemes: don't draw 25, listen to Blink Once. Hamilton's Arkells are always willing to evolve their sound without becoming unrecognizable. They balance finding pockets of unadulterated joy in the grief that drives their seventh LP by leaning into their hip-hop influences more than ever before. Read our recent conversation with the band, including a track-by-track breakdown of Blink Once.
Standout track: "Truce"
A distant horn riff anchors this disjointed, mid-tempo jam to your back pocket, with everything else following suit in cursive loops: "It comes flooding back now."
The Melodic Blue
The Melodic Blue marks a new chapter for both Baby Keem and his Pulitzer-winning cousin Kendrick Lamar, but the former isn't content to ride the coattails of his famous family member. Through his debut's highs and lows, Keem proves to be a budding melodist with an imaginative ear for production.
Standout track: "Family Ties" (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
While familial weirdness highlights their other album team-ups, "Family Ties" sees Keem and Kendrick leave it all in the booth with respective boisterous, blistering verses.
After years at the top of the Latin music world, J Balvin became a globally recognized name — collaborating with the likes of Beyoncé, Cardi B and Pharrell — but was surpassed by his own protégé, Bad Bunny. With JOSE, Balvin undeniably succeeds in his mission to humbly recapture his seat on the throne. Read our full review.
Standout track: "La Venganza (feat. Jhay Cortez)"
"La Venganza" means "revenge," and Balvin is back with a vengeance as he takes control of this sombre reggaetón banger in sonic symbiosis with special guest Cortez.
Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo
In the Meantime
Six years ago, Alessia Cara declared she was too anxious — or, perhaps, too cool — for house parties on breakthrough single "Here," and now that the world has unequivocally agreed with her, she's moved on to more upbeat, relaxed sonic fare. Third album In the Meantime finds her tackling the ups and downs of early adulthood with ample confidence and swagger. Learn more with our Fall 2021 cover story.
Standout track: "Shapeshifter"
As great as Cara's newfound lighthearted jubilance is, her take on "Black Magic Woman"-esque seduction finds her channelling her hero Amy Winehouse for an outstanding vocal performance, lightly accented by shimmering harps.
Crown Lands are making classic rock for a modern age — boomer music in a Gen Z world. In their songs and interviews, they've been outspoken about Indigenous issues, as well as anti-Semitism and gender identity, and the duo's social conscience and their devotion to the power of the shamelessly epic makes their retro rock music actually, legitimately exciting. Read our full review.
Standout track: "White Buffalo"
The third instalment in a trilogy of songs addressing Indigenous rights, it feels a bit like "Carry on Wayward Son" reworked for a younger generation living on amid the horrors of history with its thumping, riff-heavy verses, anthemic choruses, hippie-folk interludes and determined message.
Tasty Raps, Vol. 1
Only a few months after keeping their Head Above the Waters with the thematically cohesive, Polaris Music Prize-shortlisted LP, the Toronto rap phenom is back with a looser collection of tracks that live up to Kid Cudi's titular co-sign from earlier this year. Read our recent interview.
Standout track: "The Greatest (ft. Ray HMND)"
A reunion with one of Waters' standout collaborators, Dij reconciles their trademark humbleness with the undeniable reality of their success: "The higher I climb, the harder I fall / But I got a trampoline to bounce back up the wall."
Ducks Ltd. make it sound easy. Across all 10 tracks on their debut album, Modern Fiction, the band find a perfect combination of jangling indie pop arpeggios, careening rhythms and Tom McGreevy's beautifully unvarnished singing. There's little variation in quality, as if the band have struck upon such a perfect, ageless-sounding combination that it's impossible for them to miss. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Under the Rolling Moon"
Ducks Ltd.'s signature jangle pop sounds completely transcendent amidst weeping slide guitar and poignant memories of "Long nights that never quite get good."
Singer/songwriter José González returns with his first multilingual album, showcasing his Swedish and Argentine roots. Poetic lyrics take a backseat to the construction of an airy atmosphere replete with sun-drenched vocals and birdsong — almost prayer-like in tone, it's an album built to feed and soothe the soul.
Standout track: "Visions"
Who would have thought existential reckoning could be so relaxing? González tempers his unsettling lyrics with lulling, dreamy vocals and gentle guitar-strumming to reassure: "We are here together."
Let Me Do One More
(Snack Shack Tracks)
Songwriter Sarah Tudzin displays razor-sharp songwriting, whether trading in skronky freak-outs, atmospheric pop ballads or her signature brand of "tenderpunk." After the glorious chaos of last year's FREE I.H, the more meticulous Let Me Do One More is the sound of her fine-tuning the eclecticism without toning it down. Learn more with our recent interview and full review.
Standout track: "MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA"
Tudzin freely admits that she's not a technical "singer" — but this scorching single (pronounced "moo") shows just how much she can do with her rubbery voice, as she careens between cute humming, seething shouts and evil-villain laughter.
Sable (Original Video Game Soundtrack)
(Dead Oceans/Sony Masterworks)
It's been a huge year for Michelle Zauner between her memoir Crying in H Mart and album Jubilee, and her soundtrack for Shedwork's indie game Sable feels like a well-deserved victory lap. However, rather than bask in self-indulgence, Sable is a minimal, patient and transporting work of narrative ambience like little else in her catalogue. It'll take you places. Read our recent interview with Zauner.
Standout track: "Glider"
"Glider" evokes its title with startling accuracy — airborne, speeding, it feels like flying just above the earth. It demands attention even on a record made to disappear.
Peace & Love
After the Edmonton rapper took listeners into The Room in which he recovered from a car accident last year, K-Riz is preaching Peace & Love with his follow-up LP. But don't go in expecting good vibes and psychedelic platitudes: the new album finds K-Riz doubling down on his vulnerable explorations into life's many difficulties.
Standout track: "I Don't Trust You"
Over five minutes, K-Riz takes several approaches to unpacking his heartbreak, from hook-driven R&B to rhythmic rap verses to a chopped-and-screwed coda that really draws out the emotions, all the while flexing his versatility.
In the wake of a bike accident that left lead vocalist Kirsten Cudmore with a brain injury, she reflects on many facets of her life before and after, wrapped in delicate pop arrangements that are just as adept at conjuring dance floor grooves as they are introspective and empowering.
Standout track: "Indestructible"
Amid sprightly indie pop, Cudmore sings with breathtaking detail about her accident, with relentless hooks to underscore the resilience that continues to propel her.
Thierry Larose could have given any track from this year's stellar chamber pop LP Cantalou the remix EP treatment and it would work, but "De la perspective d'un vieil homme" proves to be an inspired choice, working both as humorous hip-hop and a slow-burning piano ballad.
Standout track: "De la perspective d'un vieil homme (P'tit Belliveau Remix)"
E-drums, chintzy sax and a rap verse from Acadian rising star P'tit Belliveau (channelling local heroes Radio Radio) transform the upbeat rock tune into a hip-hopping display of French-language solidarity.
one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden
(Next Door/Saddle Creek)
Ada Lea's music rarely moves in expected patterns — though it's most easily categorized as folk rock, her newest record is weirder, fresher and more intriguing than that label would suggest. Burnished guitars, humming keyboards and a rich, late-summer strangeness push one hand head and shoulders above its peers. Read our full review.
Standout track: "oranges"
With web-like guitar and a steady rhythm, "oranges" is driven less by the music than by Lea's vivid lyrics — words so alive they nearly trip over one another on the way out.
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