Singer-songwriter Adria-Kain by Kiylana Dickens-Ling
Singer-songwriter Adria-Kain. Photo: Kiylana Dickens-Ling

2022 Toronto Anthems

, “Very Online Guy

Alvvays have a knack for imbuing absolutely timeless-sounding indie pophooks with just enough hints of the modern condition they’re writing from. It’s there in their enduring 2013 classic Archie, Marry Me, the perfect wedding song for marriage industrial-complex skeptics. And it’s here in Blue Rev’s“Very Online Guy,” a character study of that distinctly 21st century phenomenon: the reply guy. Over chilly synths, Molly Rankin sings sweetly about a man who’s “incredibly vigilant” about letting you know exactly what he thinks about any issue, joke or selfie, whether you asked or didn’t. We all know him. Maybe you are him.

Luna Li feat. beabadoobee, “Silver Into Rain

Luna Li levelled up before she ever released her debut album, Duality, so when she did she already carried herself like a full superstar. Hannah Bussiere Kim blew up online with her looping self-jams of harp, violin and guitar, then honed her live chops and her onstage charisma in increasingly bigger tours. “Silver Into Rain” is a good  representation of her mix of warmth, quiet musical virtuosity and dreamy, emotional melodies. Find a video of her playing it live, complete with her trademark smiling solos, and you’ll get it right away.

DijahSB feat. Terrell Morris, “Green Line

Any song that mentions the TTC is catnip for urbanist music fans, but this track has a moody appeal that hits you whether or not you’ve sat on the green line for 45 minutes just to get home. It’s about that moment of reflection when you stop gazing out the window to close your eyes and imagine a better life — one that just might take you out of the only city you truly know. If that city has no real solutions to homelessness and replaces culture with condos, you might feel it more. Both DijahSB and their collaborator Terrell Morris fit perfectly in odd-grooved pockets between hip-hop, jazz and house, so it’s a collab that works perfectly.

Ombiigizi, “Cherry Coke

Zoon’s Daniel Monkman is known for shoegaze songs awash in dreamy distortion and noise, but teaming up with fellow Anishinaabe artist Adam Sturgeon of Status/Non-Status brought out their softer, more reflective side. “Cherry Coke” is informed by Monkman’s childhood and their complex relationship with their father, who would buy them Cherry Coke and chips at the Rez store. The lyrics and melodies are minimal, but you can hear the emotion in every mournful refrain of “Cherry Coke / Ontario.”

U.S. Girls, “So Typically Now

American-born Meg Remy might be singing about the United States, but this danceable critique of late capitalism definitely feels informed by her adopted hometown. Over a bouncy synth soundscape that won’t leave your head for days, Remy sings about the pandemic-era trend of urbanists who sold their condos and moved to the country, who “sell all my best to buy more, not less.” I can’t be the only one who thought her “Brooklyn’s dead and  Kingston’s booming” line referred to Ontario, not upstate New York.

Badge Époque Ensemble feat. James Baley, “Zodiac

There’s a whole universe contained within Badge Époque Ensemble, the sprawling local jazz-funk supergroup led by Max Turnbull (fka Slim Twig). Behind their lush compositions of guitar, flute, bongos and choir are some of Toronto’s most unsung musicians, each connecting the project to a different music scene. Colin Medley’s docu-style music video for Clouds of Joy’s “Zodiac” focuses on drummer Jay Anderson, the secret ingredient to so many of the city’s bands (including Lammping and UWUW, who both also had great releases this year). His story of how Badge evolved doubles as a secret history of the last decade or so of Toronto music.

Fresh Pepper, “Congee Around Me

There’s a huge overlapping circle in the Venn diagram of Toronto’s music scene and hospitality industry. Fresh Pepper, a team-up between saxophonist Joseph Shabason and garage-punk turned crooner Andre Ethier, reflects on the camaraderie, excitement, ennui and questionable labour conditions that live within that circle. Congee Around Me adds a dash of lovelorn food metaphor into the laid-back, jazzy stew, with extra smooth vocals from Felicity Williams and Robin Dann of Bernice. It’s as nourishing as a good bowl from Congee Queen.

The Sadies, “Stop and Start

The Sadies have been such a solid presence in Toronto’s rock and roots scenes for decades that it’s been all too easy to take them for granted. That changed this year for a sad reason. After the tragic death of driving guitarist Dallas Good, the tributes came pouring in from far and wide, from local punks to Neil Young. But the Sadies, now led by Dallas’s brother Travis Good, made the ultimate obituary: they kept right on playing. From their 2022 album, Colder Streams, “Stop and Start” shows off their distinctive mix of western-psych-garage- country.
The Sadies carry on their New Year’s Eve tradition at the Horseshoe Tavern on December 30 & 31.

Akintoye, “Pizzazz

“Are you okay? Like really? I’m fine! If Imma be sad, Imma do it with pizzazz!” That hook from 22-year-old Toronto rapper Akintoye was a popular sound on TikTok before it was ever an official song. The perfect shorthand for a certain coping mechanism, it became the soundtrack to videos all over the app helping people process their own mental health in a lighthearted way. Popular demand in the comments section convinced AK to record it and drop the full track. Now it has 7 million plays on Spotify.

Adria Kain, “Only With Time” (A Colors Show)

Adria Kain released a soulful standout this year in When Flowers Bloom, but her most resonant performancemight have been in this live performance video. Dressed all in white against a clean blue background, Kain sings into a hanging mic, and that’s all you need. Her impeccable throwback R&B vocals are a spectacle in themselves. Kain has been slowly bubbling the last few years, but it’s a good argument for you to pay attention to her right now.

This article appeared in the 2022 Dec/2023 Jan issue.