Here we go! The end of the year is always fun for me – time to reflect, prep myself for a new start, and make lists! As long as I can remember, making and listening to “Best Of” playlists was always a highlight of the season. The tradition continues with I Heart Hamilton’s Best of 2015. Here are my Top 10 local releases of the year (plus bonus track!).
BONUS TRACK: Aukland – “Talk” Rookie [Listen]
My list of 2015 favourites wouldn’t be complete without Aukland. All four members aren’t Hamilton-based, so they get the honour of being this year’s bonus track. I first saw these dudes back in 2014, opening up for Hollerado and Tokyo Police Club at McMaster. It has been a pleasure to see them get better and better every time I see them. This year I was thrilled to have them as part of I Heart Hamilton’s Playlist 4.0, one of my highlights of the year. I’m thoroughly impressed with their debut full length, Rookie; it’s solid from start to finish. Big things ahead for these guys.
10. The Human Orchestra – “Bad Jokes” The Human Orchestra [Listen]
The Human Orchestra is one of the most unique local bands. The 7-piece is a staple around the city and has been hustling for the past few years playing countless shows and festivals. They’ve really honed in on their sound which is lead by the powerful and recognizable vocals of JB Reed. This year they recorded their debut full length album with producer Michael Keire at Threshold Studio. Released in the summer, they officially celebrated the album’s release in October. Those in attendance had the chance to snatch up a limited run of the vinyl (myself, included!). Best wishes to bandmates JB and Luke who are welcoming their baby any day now!
9. Whitehorse – “Downtown” Leave No Bridge Unburned [Listen]
Is there a sexier band than Whitehorse? I daresay not. Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet are an unreal pair and they knocked it out of the park with their third album, Leave No Bridge Unburned. Can’t even tell you how many times I’ve listened to this lead single, one of my favourite tracks of the year. Whitehorse kicked off this year’s Supercrawl with a spectacular show at New Vision United Church. I feel lucky to have witnessed that set – it was absolutely one of my favourite live performances of the year.
8. Benjamin – “Songbird” The Bear and the Barn Owl [Listen]
We can always count on local label Other Songs Music Co. for consistently fantastic music. This year we were treated to a compilation of the roster’s unreleased songs, The Songs Are All We Have, as well as James Hoffman’s sophomore release, Fault Lines. But I must give a spot on this list to Benjamin’s debut, The Bear and the Barn Owl. The ten songs by Ben Fretz are so lovely. The album was very well received, charting well on 93.3 CFMU and garnering online attention. Expect more great things from Other Songs Music in 2016, including more from Benjamin, James Hoffman, Matt Paxton, Nabi, and Other Songs’ founder Scott Orr. I can’t wait.
7. Young Rival – “Carry The Weight” Interior Light [Listen]
It was a big year for Young Rival as they dropped their third full length record, Interior Light, this time on Paper Bag Records. Easily one of the best bands in the city, and Canada, for that matter, it seems as though they are finally getting their due. They’re one of the best live acts and the best when it comes to visuals – their videos, album art, live sets, all of it! I also love when a band evolves with each release, while still maintaining that signature sound at the core. This is what we’ve got with the stellar Interior Light. Honourable mention for this list also goes to Aron D’Alesio‘s debut solo EP, released this summer.
6. Grey Lands – “Lo-Fi Junkie” Right Arm [Listen]
I’m giving Grey Lands the nod for biggest breakout local band of 2015. It was awesome to get to know them this year. Wayne Petti (also of Cuff the Duke) now lives in Hamilton, and teamed up with Dan Empringham and Nick Hind-Knapp to become Grey Lands. I met Wayne early this year as we were gearing up for Hamilton to host the JUNOs, and caught their first set during JUNOfest. From there, I was so excited to have them as part of I Heart Hamilton’s annual bash, The Playlist 4.0. Grey Lands’ album Right Arm came out on Paper Bag Records during Supercrawl weekend, which the band also played. They are one of the most stellar live acts and I’m stoked to see what they do next.
5. Munroe – “Bloodlet” Munroe [Listen]
My favourite connection to make this year was with Kathleen Munroe. It was an absolute pleasure to meet Kathleen and I was truly honoured to have her at I Heart Hamilton’s The Playlist 4.0. The set marked her first official hometown show, timed with the release of her debut solo EP. It was a joy to celebrate the blog’s anniversary with her on 93.3 CFMU where she performed and talked about the EP (and she brought me cupcakes! Sweetest person ever). Produced with Michael Keire at Threshold Studio, the six songs are easily some of the best I heard all year. The lead single “Bloodlet” continues to give me chills – the EP is really something special. Munroe and Keire will be teaming up again for new music very soon, and I can’t wait to hear it.
4. Illitry – “Born” Sunset EP [Listen]
I knew Illitry’s debut EP would make my Best Of list, no questions asked, whatever year it ended up being released in! The EP has been a long time in the making for Troy Witherow, and well worth the wait. The four tracks are phenomenal. It was one of those releases that I couldn’t just casually play; I had to drop everything to take it in. It has been that way for me with all of Illity’s music. There is a special, otherworldly quality about Illitry that is rare to come by. “Born” in particular moves me in a big way every time I hear it. The Sunset EP is another one on this list that was produced at Threshold by Michael Keire – where the magic happens! This is incredible, world-class music being made right here in my city, and it makes me so proud. This year Illitry also collaborated with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra on their Indie Series, and it was one of my favourite performances of the year.
3. Twin Within – “Tunnel to the Reservoir” Horizontal Lines [Listen]
One of my favourite new acts of the year is Twin Within. Their debut album Horizontal Lines, released on local label Hidden Pony, was incredibly refreshing and offered something I hadn’t heard before. Steve McKay and Alex Samaras are a magical musical pairing. This collection of songs is magnificent. In 2015, I was front row at several of their shows, from Mills Hardware, to a church on Locke Street, to Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern, to Supercrawl. It was an absolute joy to see and hear them every single time. “Tunnel to the Reservoir” is another incredibly moving song that really meant a lot and comforted me this year. To personally know the people who make music that impacts you like that is really amazing, and is one of my favourite parts about doing this.
2. Terra Lightfoot – “Never Will” Every Time My Mind Runs Wild [Listen]
No doubt about it, this year belonged to Terra Lightfoot, and rightfully so. Terra’s success couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person. Hamilton has known her talent for years, but with the release of her sophomore album, Every Time My Mind Runs Wild, released on Sonic Unyon, the rest of the world now gets to catch up. The album is a triumph; I can’t say enough. Every song is fantastic. This year, Terra and her band toured across Canada in support of the album, played major festivals, including our own Greenbelt Harvest Picnic and Supercrawl, and received steady radio play. Terra also collaborated with Boris Brott and the National Academy Orchestra for two spectacular events, and finished the year at JR Digs’ sold out 7th annual Acoustic Christmas Concert. It won’t stop there – big things ahead for this one!
1. New Hands – “Decide & Conquer” Leave With The Night [Listen]
Ah, New Hands. What a wild ride it has been. Their debut album Leave With The Night was finally released this year after being in the works for the three years that I’ve known them. Sadly, their first album is also their last. The band decided to part ways after a final show in March. It meant a lot to me to be along with the band every step of the way. We even debuted the album on my show at 93.3 CFMU in December 2013 before the tracks would evolve again. It’s no surprise that Michael Keire gets multiple appearances on this list – he’s behind this one too. Another one of my music highlights this year was my hour with Keire on 93.3 CFMU. This album is, simply put, the best local music I’ve heard. I miss New Hands, but know this isn’t the end of the incredible talent and creativity of these guys.
Happy listening – I can’t wait for more new sounds in 2016!