Canada has a ton to offer in the indie music scene. Stretching from the west coast to French Canadian rock and out to the east, we cover a lot of ground, which is why it can be difficult to decide on the best. Instead of choosing the top bands based on opinion, we’ve decided to take a look at the charts.
The top charting Canadian indie albums of all time are the highest-selling albums in Canadian recording history that were initially released by independent labels without major distribution or self-released, as recognized by Music Canada (the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA), prior 2011).
These are the top charting Canadian indie albums of all time.
1. The Rankin Family — Fare Thee Well Love
Before Molly Rankin paved her own way with Alvvays, The Rankin Family set the course for the family business with some massively successful independent forays into the popular realm. Leagues ahead of any other charting independent release, The Rankin Family’s sophomore effort Fare Thee Well Love went on to break ground after the band self-released the album in 1990. After Capitol/EMI signed the musical family, and Capitol re-issued the album in 1992, sales boomed, and the album was certified Quintuple Platinum (500,000 units) by the CRIA in 1996.
2. Daniel Bélanger — Les Insomniaques S’amusent
After beginning his career as a Québécois singer-songwriter in the late 1980s, the success of Daniel Bélanger’s 1992 album-length debut stoked a regional reputation. Issued by Quebec indie mainstay Audiogram, Bélanger toured the province tirelessly in support of its success, earning Platinum certification for the album by the end of 1993. Following the release of his third solo release in 1999, Les Insomniaques S’amusent was certified Double Platinum (200,000 units).
3. Bedouin Soundclash — Sounding a Mosaic
Conquering the Canadian singles chart with “When the Night Feels My Song,” Bedouin Soundclash’s Sounding a Mosaic had explosive national success. Originally issued by Montreal-based ska-punk institution Stomp Records and SideOneDummy in the States, its commercial success was extended when, following dissatisfaction with indie distribution companies, Stomp soon after struck up a deal with Warner. It was certified Platinum by the CRIA in 2007.
4. Alexisonfire — Crisis
“Alright!” Released by Distort Entertainment (Canada), Hassle Records (UK), and Vagrant (US) late in 2006, Alexisonfire’s third studio album came blazing out of the gate, selling 20,000 copies in its first week. Closely following a U.S. tour in support of Anti-Flag in March and April 2007, it was certified Gold (50,000 units) and Platinum (100,000 units) simultaneously on May 1, 2007.
5. Alexisonfire — Watch Out!
Crisis wasn’t Alexisonfire’s only hot-out-the-gates release. Debuting at No. 6 on the Canadian Albums Chart, Watch Out! sold 6,580 units in its first week and certified Platinum while Crisis was breaking across America.
6. City and Colour — Sometimes
Its demos hot merch table commodities, traded like wildfire over peer-to-peer sharing networks. When Dallas Green finally released a proper collection of solo recordings as City and Colour via Dine Alone Records in 2005, fans swooned with wallets at the ready, and just after a year passed, it secured status as a Platinum-certified release.
7. The Arcade Fire — Funeral
A harbinger of the “Millennial Whoop” and instrumental in shifting the perception of indie rock from an underground culture to an accessible, overground form, Arcade Fire’s 2004 debut struck a deeply resonating chord upon its Merge/Rough Trade release. Eventually attracting a short-term publishing deal with EMI, the album was introduced to foreign markets in 2005, precipitating Platinum certification later that year.
8. Ariane Moffatt — Aquanaute
Shortly after contributing keyboards and vocals to Daniel Bélanger’s well-received Rêver mieux, the francophone singer-songwriter made her solo debut in 2002. Released by Audiogram, Aquanaute eventually earned Gold certification by February 2004, and, just ahead of a European reissue by EMI/Virgin, Platinum by April 2005.
9. Les Trois Accords — Gros Mammouth Album Turbo
Quebec comedy rock Les Trois Accords made waves with their 2003 debut, eventually leading them to an opening spot on a bill with the Rolling Stones in Moncton, New Brunswick. Released by Montreal-based indie label Indica and distributed by indie distro Outside Music, it certified Gold by November 2004, and went Platinum one month later.
10. Jean Leloup — Les Fourmis
Quebec rocker Jean Leloup’s provocative 1998 release Les Fourmis was another Audiogram hit. It went Gold in December 1998, and certified Platinum in July 2000.
11. Matthew Good Band — Underdogs
Despite online claims that their Last of the Ghetto Astronauts holds the title of the highest selling independent release by a Canadian artist, the group’s 1995 debut never charted higher than Gold (50,000 units). Sophmore release Underdogs, however, (also initially released on their own Darktown Records imprint) went on to receive Platinum certification (100,000 units) from the CRIA in 1999. While a 2003 Billboard article citing data from Nielson SoundScan pegged total sales for Underdogs at 200,000 units by that time (qualifying for Double Platinum status), that’s contested by Music Canada’s online database, suggesting the Billboard number could have been a typo or that no application was submitted for a Double Platinum certification.
12. The Rankin Family — The Rankin Family
Another self-released hit, the Rankin Family’s self-titled, 1989 full-length debut wasn’t nearly as commercially successful as the record that followed, but it still managed to obtain Platinum certification by 1995, earning the band a second spot among the country’s highest charting independent releases.
13. Maestro Fresh-Wes — Symphony in Effect
Maestro Fresh-Wes’s Symphony in Effect was a landmark release in Canadian hip-hop. Initially released by now-defunct Canadian indie label Attic Records in 1989, it charged out of the gate with “Let Your Backbone Slide,” garnering the distinction of the first hit single in Canadian hip-hop history, and fans were hooked. The record was certified Gold, then Platinum before the end of 1990.
14. City and Colour — Bring Me Your Love
In May 2008, Music Canada adjusted the sales criteria for Platinum releases from 100,000 to 80,000 units in response to market changes. Released in February 2008 by Dine Alone Records, Dallas Green’s second solo release qualified by November the next year.
15. Metric — Live it Out
Amongst all its critical praise, with Live It Out, Metric found lasting commercial success. Released by Last Gang Records in September 2005, the Polaris Prize shortlisted album obtained Gold certification the following March, and qualified for the new Platinum standard by August 2009.
(Editor’s Note: This is not a definitive list. We reduced the list to include a number of diverse acts from across Canada.)