Compiling my “Best Of” local releases of the year is one of my favourite things to do on I Heart Hamilton – it’s crazy to know this is my 5th year of it. It’s a testament to our incredible scene that it gets more difficult every time to narrow it down to just my top picks. I’m breaking the rules and doing a top 11, plus bonus track, of course.
As an addendum, I’m only charting EPs and albums, but I have to give honourable mentions to some killer singles released this year which are accompanied by fantastic videos:
Emay – “Bakkah: The History of Humankind”
The Medicine Hat – “St. Cecilia”
Here we go!
BONUS TRACK: Jennifer Budd – “Church” Lip Service
Released: November 2015
It has become my tradition to sneak in a bonus track in my Best Of Playlist – this year the honour goes to Jennifer Budd. Her debut album is my bonus because although it wasn’t technically released this year, I discovered it this year. I became a fast fan and friend of Jennifer from our first meeting when she performed live on my show in March on 93.3 CFMU. Lip Service is an impressive debut; produced at Threshold Studio by Michael Keire, Jennifer’s incredible vocals are front and centre. The songs blend blues, soul, gospel, funk, and come to life even more onstage with Jenn’s shining stage presence and stellar band.
11. WTCHS – “You Own Your Bones” She Walks She Creeps
This album was a long time in the making for WTCHS, with changes in lineup and scrapping an album in the process. Released on Sonic Unyon, this album is a beast, and worth the wait. The band really lets it rip with longer songs, more dissonance, and more drone. A cacophony of instruments and wailing vocals hits you like a tidal wave of noise, in the best way. When speaking of this track they say it’s about “acceptance, acceptance of yourself and others amongst the chaos of the universe. you answer to no one but yourself.” Wise words, WTCHS.
10. Scott Orr – “By The Way” Everything
Other Songs Music continues to create beautiful music. Highlights from them this year include Matt Paxton’s Let Me Rock n’ Roll Tonight and a live album from Timid the Brave. Label founder Scott Orr also released a new album of his own. In keeping with the delicate, lo-fi sounds that are signature to Scott, this album is a little brighter and fuller. The warmer sounds match the subject matter (and album cover) as it’s very much a record about love. I’m already looking forward to what Other Songs does in 2017, specifically Nabi’s debut and a new one from Timid the Brave.
9. Coszmos Quartette – “A Perfect Paradise” Coszmos Quartette
This album (recorded at Threshold Studio and released on HAVNrecords) came as a beautiful breeze, a breath of fresh air. I’ve always been a huge fan of local musician Brad Germain – any project he’s involved in creating is going to be good (Dinner Belles, Spruce Invaders, to name a couple). This Quartette, made up of Brad, Kate, Joel, and Sara, is described on their Bandcamp page as “tea time dream time” and that sounds about right to me. This is a magical little album that evokes such a lovely feeling with every listen. Seeing them live with Twin Within, Kirk Starkey and Luka was one of my favourite local bills of the year. The show was made even more ethereal by taking place at Church of St. John the Evangelist (“The Rock on Locke”). The band also played this year’s Supercrawl.
8. Basement Revolver – “Words” Basement Revolver EP
Basement Revolver is one of my favourite new local acts of the year. They’ve already found their signature sound and much of that has to do with singer Chrisy Hurn’s unmistakable vocals. Subtle and soft, yet powerful and emotional, Chrisy’s voice lead the way on this EP. Together with Brandon Munroe on drums and Nimal Agalawatte on bass and synth, the sounds are melodic and sweet yet at the same time distorted, distant, and gritty. These four songs are beautiful and I’m excited to hear more.
7. Dan Edmonds – “To Be That Needle” Ladies On The Corner
There was no doubt from anyone that we would hear new music from Dan Edmonds after his band Harlan Pepper disbanded late last year. And moreover, there was probably no doubt in anyone’s mind that the music was going to be fantastic. Dan’s lo-fi, folk sound is unmistakable and the 24-year-old transcends his age and even the era we’re in. The music he is making is timeless. Dan also impressively recorded and produced this batch of songs in his own studio. He has also produced releases for local artists Island People, Billy Moon, and The Vaudevillian, among others. Check out my recent interview with Dan on 93.3 CFMU about the making of the album.
6. Mother Tareka & The Rebel Funktion – “Water Fight ft. DJ LP” Elephants
It wouldn’t be a Best Of local list without multiple appearances by my favourite producer Michael Keire. Hearing that multi-instrumentalist and MC Mother Tareka and his all star band The Rebel Funktion were headed into the studio at Threshold, you knew the results were going to be amazing. Elephants is a powerful album full of funk, groove, soul, insightful lyrics, and an impressive roster of guests like Lee Reed, Nilla, Kobi Annobil of Canadian Winter, and Kojo ‘Easy’ Damptey, to name a few. Every single song packs a punch. One of the best shows of the year was the Welcome to Hamilton benefit show for Syrian newcomer youth which featured Mother Tareka.
5. Junior Boys – “You Say That” Big Black Coat
Major music highlight of the year for me – finally seeing Junior Boys live in action. This Hamilton rite of passage was made even better that it was during my favourite event, Supercrawl. (Another interview highlight for me was getting to interview Jeremy Greenspan). One of our best musical exports, Junior Boys made a splash this year with their fifth album Big Black Coat. It’s chock full of irresistible beats that lit up dance floors and took the guys on a tour across North America and abroad with fellow Hamilton artist Jessy Lanza. As if that wasn’t enough, they also dropped a surprise EP this summer, Kiss Me All Night.
4. Arkells – “My Heart’s Always Yours” Morning Report
This year launched Arkells even further onto the world class stage that they belong on. Their 4th album Morning Report is comprised of what we’ve come to know and love from the band – solid songwriting, catchy sing-along hooks, and that signature Arkells rock’n’roll punch. This is their slickest album yet, but make no mistake, they are also one of the best live bands around. They hit a milestone in November, performing two sold out shows at Toronto’s Massey Hall, and their upcoming hometown show at FirstOntario Centre (let’s be real, Copps!) on February 10th will be another unforgettable night. Another huge highlight of the year for me was getting to interview singer Max Kerman and seeing the guys perform at the Welcome to Hamilton benefit show. That acoustic performance was one of the best vocals I’ve ever heard from Max. The year was capped off with Max’s annual appearance at the 8th JR Digs Acoustic Xmas.
3. Jessy Lanza – “Never Enough” Oh No
How many artists can say their first two albums made the Polaris Music Prize Short List? I don’t know the stat on this, but it’s a safe assumption to say not very many. Awards aren’t what it’s all about, but it’s still something to be said that Jessy Lanza is so well respected by critics, peers, and fans alike. Her debut album Pull My Hair Back knocked it out of the park so hard in 2013, and she delivers a home run again with Oh No, kicking things up a notch with more bangers. Jessy is another one of our local artists who spent the year on the road and around the world. Her live show is elevated even more with the addition of percussionist Tori Tizzard. Jessy ends the year by releasing a three-track remix EP, OH NO NO NO.
2. Persons – “Watch The Wall” Persons
This band is everything I never knew I needed. Persons is easily the most exciting local act of the year. (Their first ever radio interview was with me – check it out on 93.3 CFMU). I encountered them during early performances a couple of years ago at The Baltimore House and the act has since evolved from Jackson Darby’s solo project (Nick Persons) to being a full ensemble with Sam Rosenberg (DJ Choozey), Benita Whyte, and Katie McDonald. Together, they put on some of the most enthralling and wild shows – you have to experience it to know what I’m talking about. The release show for their debut album at HAVN (the cassette was also released through HAVNrecords) was one of my favourite local shows of the year. Combining music, multimedia and movement, the whole thing transcended time and space.
1. The Dirty Nil – “No Weaknesses” Higher Power
2016 was the year of the Nil. The trio have been plugging away for years, and already have a loyal following and a solid discography of singles and EPs. With much anticipation for their first full length album, they did not disappoint. This is album is everything we could have wanted from them and more. (Check out my interview with drummer Kyle Fisher about the album’s release on 93.3 CFMU.) The new songs are stellar and the old ones are elevated to match. It’s high voltage from start to finish, and made for massive arena stages. And that’s exactly where the band found themselves, touring non-stop all year throughout Europe and North America. They won’t slow down, hitting Australia in the new year. To say I’m proud of these dudes is too much of an understatement.