Playlist – Best of 2014

It was particularly difficult this year to narrow down I Heart Hamilton’s “Best Of” Playlist. There were so many fantastic releases in 2014 across the board, that I had to extend my usual Top 10 to Top 20 (plus bonus track!) out of the multitude of local releases I listened to this year. Hopefully you’ve been following along with my Playlists throughout the year to dig into even more selections. Let me know your favourites from the year!

BONUS TRACK: Caribou – “Can’t Do Without You” Our Love [Listen]
caribou Dan Snaith, aka Caribou, had a huge release this year with Our Love, the followup to 2010’s hit Swim. I’m including this a bonus cut because although he no longer lives here, his Hamilton (Dundas, specifically) roots remain strong. He’s doing us proud! Caribou teamed up with fellow hometown native Jessy Lanza (who had one of the best releases last year) and the pair toured together – no doubt a fantastic show for those who got to attend. Continuing on the success of this album, Caribou just announced a world tour in 2015.

20. Ash & Bloom – “This Town (Hamilton)” Let The Storm Come
AB Playlist featured: June
Folk duo Ash & Bloom (Matt McKenna and James Bloemendal) released a lovely collection of songs this year with their debut album, Let The Storm Come, in June. It’s a wonderful first album; the band finds their sound so effortlessly. After the album’s release, the band toured North America and soon Australia. I had to choose this track, an ode to our hometown, for this mix. Look out for the music video to come in the new year. I filmed a cameo for it and am in some excellent company – the video will be full of proud Hamiltonians!

19. ttwwrrss – “Jungle” ttwwrrss [Listen]
ttwwrrss Playlist featured: April
Sean Thompson, aka ttwwrrss (pronounced “towers”) dropped his second full release this year, although he is consistently churning out tracks and remixes (keep current by following him on Soundcloud). He joined Maisonneuve Music’s eclectic roster for this self-titled album, which is a great fit. An honourable mention also goes to another recent track of his, “Life” featuring OLD KID, which was released in September.

18. WTCHS – “Over Kilmer” It’s Not A Cross, It’s A Curse! [Listen]
wtchs Playlist featured: April
WTCHS keep on steadily building momentum and garnering attention; they’re ones to watch for a big breakout. A big move for the band this year was joining the Sonic Unyon roster as they released their latest EP, It’s Not A Cross, It’s A Curse! in April. The EP was recorded with Adam Sturgeon of WHOOP-Szo, a band you can often find working with WTCHS and the PERDU camp on releases and shows.

17. Matt Paxton – “Pink Rabbits” (The National cover) Mountain Eyes [Listen]
mattpaxton Playlist featured: October
This release on Other Songs Music was the most lo-fi record yet from singer-songwriter Matt Paxton. Matt always comes to mind when I think of hometown musicians who are so proud to be from Hamilton and who represent us well. Matt relocated to Vancouver this year, but still maintains, as he put it during our interview on 93.3 CFMU, “a Hamilton state of mind.” It was one of my favourite interviews of the year, and Matt also shared that there will be a new release with a full band to come. When we was back in town he came on the show again and performed a brand new song. While we await the new material, Matt’s cover of The National was an easy pick for this list.

16. Pet Sun – “Feel Like I’m Going Away” Feel Like I’m Going Away [Listen]
petsun Playlist featured: October
Pet Sun had a big breakout this year. The strength of their first EP Serpent Buzz, which they recorded themselves, caught people’s attention and landed them with Toronto’s Sleepless Records. The rambunctious four-piece released their new EP, Feel Like I’m Going Away this year, which honed their stoner-garage-rock sound even more. They don’t take themselves too seriously (I’ve had fun with them in studio a couple of times now on 93.3 CFMU) and if you’ve seen them live, you know they go full throttle.

15. Katie Bulley – “Warrior” Sun Wolf [Listen]
KB Playlist featured: August
It was a big year for singer-songwriter Katie Bulley, with the release of her first solo album Sun Wolf. She trekked down South to Mississippi, New Orleans, Nashville, and recorded the album at Sun Studio in Memphis. What would seem like a daunting move for some, Katie was fearless and it resulted in an awesome record. It’s always a rewarding thing to witness an artist find their sound, and Katie nailed it with this record. One of my favourite performances this year on the show at 93.3 CFMU was when Katie played this song live in studio.

14. Billy Moon – “King Of The Sun” Young Adult [Listen]
youngadult Playlist featured: April
You couldn’t avoid Billy Moon this year if you tried. They are another big breakout band this year. Since their titled track off 2013’s Bicycle EP brought them attention in 2013, the band followed up with the stellar EP Young Adult. Recorded with Michael Keire at Threshold Studio, the band’s sound was elevated even more. All five tracks are so solid and I was thrilled to have the duo, Graham and Patrick, premiere the songs with me on 93.3 CFMU. I’ll be kicking off 2015 with Billy Moon when they are part of I Heart Hamilton’s next show, January 2nd at The Baltimore House.

13. Illitry – “Wildberry” (single) [Listen]
album5 Illitry has been ever so carefully tweaking their debut release until it’s just right. With only singles released so far, the band’s first EP is set for release in January 2015. My reaction to every Illitry track is the same – I need to listen to it several times in a row after that first listen, to wrap my mind around it and process. And that’s a good thing. Their most recent single, “Wildberry,” is a slow-burner that picks up momentum halfway through and continues to pulsate right to the end (until you hit “play” again). Another track of theirs, “Runaways”, an expertly reworked version of an early demo, was released earlier this year and is also one of my favourite tracks of the year.

12. The Dinner Belles – “Wandering Eye” The River And The Willow [Listen]
DB The Dinner Belles are one of the most special groups in Hamilton. It seems like, from the first few notes of any of their songs, you somehow just know it’s them. It’s a magical musical concoction that happens when these seven very different musicians come together. Everyone was anxious to hear their second album, The River and the Willow (released on hometown label Sonic Unyon), the follow-up to their 2011 debut West Simcoe Valley. The video for this track is also one my favourites of the year.

11. Thought Beneath Film – “Sixty-Six” Cartographers [Listen]
tbf Playlist featured: April / Supercrawl
It was an amazing year for Thought Beneath Film and it has been a pleasure to get to know this hard-working band. I kicked off the year with them when they were part of I Heart Hamilton’s first show of the year. From there, they released their debut full length album Cartographers in April. The album was a long time in the making for the band; core members of the group, brothers Brent and Brian Wirth, went through a lot in the process. The end result was Wirth waiting for (Ha! Couldn’t resist). TBF also impressed at Supercrawl with a collaboration with HPO and filmed a fantastic video with Southern Souls for this track. Proceeds from downloads of the song went to MusiCounts. Brent and Brian even found time to tour with Teenage Kicks this year.

10. Harlan Pepper – “Gimme Love” Take Out A Twenty And Live Life To The Fullest [Listen]
harlanp When I think Hamilton music, Harlan Pepper is always one of the first acts who comes to mind; they’re a hometown staple. We’re fortunate to have these guys representing the city and being so proud of where they come from. With the release of their sophomore album this year, Take Out A Twenty And Live Life To The Fullest (which also gets my nod for best album title of the year) it’s almost hard to believe this is only their second release. The band is so young, but are already so seasoned. It was fun getting to interview the dudes a few months back on 93.3 CFMU as they geared up for their Supercrawl performance and to see them at various spots around town this year. They’re always a blast.

9. Dark Mean – “Albatross” Samuel The Phoenix [Listen]
darkmean Playlist featured: February
An amazing memory for me this year was having Dark Mean play an I Heart Hamilton show. This show in particular had such a great vibe and makes me feel really happy to recall. It was Dark Mean’s first show in two years, and I was honoured to have them at The Baltimore House in February with Quails in the Nest and The Human Orchestra. It really meant a lot to me. The show was timed with the release of Dark Mean’s beautiful EP Samuel The Phoenix, recorded at Threshold Studio with longtime collaborator Michael Keire. The band is back in the studio with Keire and I’m anxious to hear what’s next.

8. Best Wishes – “Youth” Best Wishes – EP [Listen]
bestwishes Playlist featured: June
This was one of the most surprising releases of the year. An incredibly pleasant surprise, at that. Best Wishes seemingly came out of nowhere. We didn’t know that Scott Orr was working on this side project soon after he released his last solo album A Long Life in 2013 (on my Best Of list last year). Scott collaborated with Eric Fusilier (The City Harmonic) and Matt Henderson (Fitness Club Fiasco, Old English) to form Best Wishes. With this EP, released on Other Songs Music, so far the band has remained a studio project, without playing live. Here’s hoping we hear more from this great band.

7. Young Rival – “Elevator” (single) [Listen]
YR Playlist featured: April
Produced by Michael Keire at Threshold Studio, this was the first new release from Young Rival since 2012’s stellar album Stay Young. What I love about it is the song is unrelenting from start to finish. Short songs are good like that – sometimes you just want to get right down to it, no preamble. The track is also a bit of a tease because it’s all we got from Young Rival this year, but we’ll see what they have in store for us next – they have big announcements to come in 2015. Young Rival were also the third and final secret band to play the very last show this year in Casbah Lounge, one of my favourite shows of the year. We’ll end the year with Young Rival at their annual Boxing Day show at The Casbah – a Hamilton holiday staple. I was really stoked to get to chat with drummer Noah Fralick all about it on 93.3 CFMU.

6. Emay – “MAIR” Sinner, Song-Writer [Listen]
emay Emay’s newest, his EP Sinner, Song-Writer, was released this month, just in the nick of time to make this list. More importantly, I’m so glad to have discovered this artist. I’m late to the party – Emay’s discography on his bandcamp page dates back to 2010. Somehow he slipped under my radar and I still don’t know much about him, but people are catching on more than ever right now, not just locally. Emay has had big features including SPIN and Pigeons & Planes. Right from my first listen to his new EP, I was all in. Emay is another artist to watch for a big breakout in 2015.

5. The Dirty Nil – “Wrestle Yü To Hüsker Dü” Smite [Listen]
smite Playlist featured: February
The first few bars of this song and the “I don’t care about your man” chorus makes this one of the most recognizable songs of the year, and the most fun to sing along to. The Dirty Nil released their best work yet, the EP Smite, almost a full year ago, in February 2014. It’s been a hell of a year for the trio since then. The Nil were one of three secret bands to play the Casbah Lounge for the last time, demolished the main stage at Supercrawl, and toured in the U.S with best buds Greys. A highlight for me this year was finally getting to interview the guys when I spent the hour with them on 93.3 CFMU in June. Big things ahead for this band and I’m so stoked for them.

4. Laura Cole – “Dirty Cheat” Dirty Cheat [Listen]
lauracole Playlist featured: October
I met Laura Cole back in March of 2013 and it was one of those moments where you just click with someone right away. I heard her sing a couple of times and knew she was working on her first album, but wasn’t expecting anything this big (to my embarrassment, now!). It was very rewarding to hear the finished product, Dirty Cheat (executive produced by Daniel Lanois), released this year. Every song on the album is so solid and Laura blends pop, blues, Motown, and soul, with her fantastic voice front and centre. Getting to witness a new artist who has found their sound and who is poised for big things is so exciting. Keep your eye on this firecracker!

3. The Tallest Tree – “Boat” (single) [Listen]
tallesttree Playlist featured: June
I declared this tune to be the local “song of the summer,” and looking back on the year, it still stands out. The Tallest Tree is one of the biggest breakouts of the year, for me. The duo, Dawn Larsh and Armando Vega, have such a sweet story: they met, the fell in love, got married, started a band. I was honoured to get the exclusive on the new band when they performed live in studio on 93.3 CFMU, and to have I Heart Hamilton’s The Playlist 3.0 be their debut show (both with guest vocalist Marra Koren). This song is perfect in its simplicity; it’s short and sweet but has such an impact. I love it so much and I look forward hearing more from The Tallest Tree.

2. New Hands – “Strange Attractor” (single) [Listen]
strangeatt One of my highlights of the year was New Hands’ big return with their November residency at The Baltimore House. The band took an extended break in 2013 as Ben Muñoz went to England and Spence Newell to France, and they hadn’t played together in over a year. Their reunion couldn’t have been any sweeter; it brought me so much joy to see them play together again. As they continue to work on their highly anticipated debut album, we were treated to this new single (produced by Michael Keire and mixed by Graham Walsh of Holy Fuck), along with an innovative GIF-based video which is the first of its kind (no two viewings are the same). By creating a song of this high calibre, this early in the game, New Hands has an exciting career ahead of them. I’m really proud of the band and can’t wait to see what they do next.

1. Arkells – “Come To Light” (High Noon) [Listen]
highnoon Playlists featured: April / June / Supercrawl
No doubt about it, 2014 was Arkells’ year. As the follow up to 2011’s Michigan Left, the release of High Noon was a big moment for the band. It’s a fantastic album from start to finish. As for a live show, they are still one of the best I’ve ever seen. There were several big highlights this year featuring Arkells. The band were one of three secret acts to play the Casbah Lounge for the last time in January. A lucky group of fans got a first glimpse of their new material in July when the band collaborated with the Boris Brott National Academy Orchestra for a Supercrawl pop-up show. And of course, Supercrawl! Arkells headlined and had a hand in booking this year’s festival. Their performance on the main stage, right next Jackson Square, is my favourite Hamilton moment of the year.

– Kristin

Best of 2014: Local from ihearthamilton on 8tracks Radio.

Kristin Archer is the creator of I Heart Hamilton (, where she has blogged about experiences around her hometown since 2011, growing a social media presence along the way. Encouraging locals to “be a tourist in your own city,” she promotes arts and culture across her various social media platforms, blog, and weekly radio show on 93.3 CFMU.

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