I Heart Hamilton's Best of 2018 local releases

By Kristin Archer

Time to wrap up another year! It’s a pleasure to support Hamilton’s music scene and I’m continually inspired by it. If I can leave you with one resolution in 2019: go to more shows!

To continue from last year, I’m charting EPs and albums, but I’ll give honourable mentions to these singles released in 2018:
Illitry – “Fall” (Sunset EP re-release to come in 2019)
Shanika Maria – “A Proud Woman” (debut album Subtle Uncertainties to come in January)
Fanny Price – “Slow Burn”
Shade – “Controller”
Matthew Fleming – “Dream To Me”

Here we go!

15. Monster Truck“Evolution” True Rockers
Monster Truck - True Rockers
Released: September
Monster Truck is a down and dirty rock band and that’s why we love ’em! The band released their third full length offering this year. The epic cover art leaps off the record, much like the sounds when you hit play or drop the needle down. The dudes look like rock’n’roll superheroes. Catch them on their Down and Dirty Club Tour across Canada in 2019.

14. Arkells“Relentless” Rally Cry

Arkells - Rally Cry
Arkells – Rally Cry

Released: October
Watching the evolution of Arkells is so much fun. This year the band surpassed the milestone 10th anniversary of their debut, Jackson Square, while releasing their fifth record, Rally Cry. That discography gives Arkells so much to play with during their live show which is one of the best. The Rally concert this past June was one of the best parties of the year. It was the band’s biggest show to date, selling out Tim Hortons Field and bringing along Ellevator, Cold War Kids, and Bishop Briggs for the ride. The event was uniquely Hamilton and the energy was electric. One of my best Hamilton memories for the books!

13. The Dill“Conflict Of Interest” Greetings From
The Dill - Greetings From
Released: August
Dylan Hudecki rolled out 52 songs over 52 weeks in 2016 that featured a ton of collaborations with friends. The physical release was complete with a deck of cards, each designed by a different local artist. 52 was then whittled down to what would become Greetings From which we celebrated the release of this past August at The Casbah. Experimenting with different styles from track to track, Dill put his heart into each one.

12. Gareth Inkster“Misfire” Last Year

Gareth Inkster - Last Year
Gareth Inkster – Last Year

Released: July
When I first met and chatted with singer-songwriter Gareth Inkster on 93.3 CFMU back in February, his album wasn’t out yet but his enthusiasm for describing it was such a joy. He even took us track by track, describing the narrative the songs would shape along with his musical influences ranging from Elliott Smith, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman, and Ben Folds. The instrumentation on these songs is beautiful, like a mini orchestra on each one. On “Misfire” when he sings, “Is there something wrong with me? I don’t think so, but I don’t know” into the trumpet and soaring strings. Whew! This is an impressive debut EP.

11. Kojo “Easy” Damptey“Reflections” Giants: Stories of Existence, Resilience, & Resistance

Kojo "Easy" Damptey - Giants: Stories of Existence, Resilience, & Resistance
Kojo “Easy” Damptey – Giants: Stories of Existence, Resilience, & Resistance

Released: November
This record is Afro Soul artist Kojo Damptey’s tour de force! He describes Giants as “a decolonizing creative process aimed at using music to capture the myriad experiences of people of colour.” Blending music from his native Ghana with hip hop, R&B, and soul, the emotions run as deep as the grooves. You will recognize a star-studded cast of local players including Mother Tareka, Nasr Benny, members of The Altobeelays, Canadian Winter, and members of Hamilton Youth Poets, along with Vancouver Hip-Hop artist K!mmortal and Ghanaian spoken word artist Mutombo Da Poet.

10. glassEYElashes – “Iowa” Jellyfish

glassEYElashes - Jellyfish
glassEYElashes – Jellyfish

Released: July
This album leapt right out at me when it was released this summer and I named it one of my favourite releases of the year so far. Looking back now as we reach the end of 2018, it’s still up there for me. Becky Katz, Sarah Good, and Annie Shaw are magical together and their harmonies blend so beautifully. They aren’t afraid to get a little off-kilter and the result is one of the most unique local releases I’ve heard all year.

9. Lee Reed“The New Steal” The Steal City EP (Released: July)
“Get Mad” – Before & Aftermath (Released: October)

Lee Reed - Before & Aftermath
Lee Reed – Before & Aftermath

I’m making this one a double whammy because we were gifted with both an EP and an LP from local emcee Lee Reed this year. Lee is a beast when he hits the mic; his ferocity is unmatched. We can always count on the artist to tell it like it is, and with an ever-changing city, it’s interesting to hear your own city reflected back through music, which is what we get with The Steal City EP. Lee later dropped the full length Before & Aftermath, his debut release with Strange Famous Records.

8. Scott Orr“Seasons” Worried Mind

Scott Orr - Worried Mind
Scott Orr – Worried Mind

Released: October
We’re used to stripped down, acoustic sounds from singer-songwriter and founder of local label Other Songs, Scott Orr. As beautiful as all of his releases are, I really love the added instrumentation on Worried Mind. Scott plays with the electronic element of synthesizers on this one and they elevate the sound but the songs don’t lose their familiarity; the delicate, intimate quality we have to come to know from the artist. I was also happy to do a show with Scott this year by helping present a show of his at The Mule Spinner. If you haven’t got into his podcast Other Record Labels, give it a listen!

7. Twin Within with HPO – “Night Danger” Live-Off-The-Floor at Hamilton Place With The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra

Twin Within - Live Off The Floor
Twin Within – Live Off The Floor

Released: April
Twin Within is Steve McKay and friends singing in unison to the masses. The music off their debut Horizontal Lines (See Best Of 2015) still means so much to me. Having watched the band’s original lineup, Steve and Alex Samaras, performing together is still one of the most magical things I have ever seen. I feel grateful to have seen them perform together as many times as I have, including this phenomenal arrangement with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra which was recorded as a live album (the fantastic Indie Series performance and album release show was at New Vision United Church). This record is stunning. A testament to how solid the songs are, they still sound fantastic with the band’s new lineup, continuing to make Twin Within one of the most unique projects in Hamilton.

6. Ellevator“Hounds” Ellevator EP

Ellevator - Ellevator EP
Ellevator – Ellevator EP

Released: April
On last year’s list I predicted a release from Ellevator would chart high on my list for 2018, and the band’s debut EP was certainly one of the most highly anticipated local releases. I’ve enjoyed the band for the past few years and after a name change, switching up their sound a bit and joining the Arts & Crafts roster, they are exactly where they need to be. The band commanded Tim Hortons Field opening up for Arkells at The Rally concert in June, and toured with acts like Dear Rouge and Amber Run this year. It’s only onward and upward from here!

5. Dizzy Spells“Retrograde” Dizzy Spells

Dizzy Spells - Dizzy Spells EP
Dizzy Spells – Dizzy Spells EP

Released: October
When you watch a local band work away for years and then release a debut recording that sums them up perfectly, it’s just so rewarding. That’s how I feel about Dizzy Spells. A lot of indie bands can start to sound the same after a while but what these five fellows are creating really stands out. Their sound is difficult to pin down; they’re not afraid to take risks and get a little weird. The album was engineered and recorded by Nimal Agalawatte of Basement Revolver, and mixed by Damon Guyett and mastered by Benjamin Schillaci (both from Dizzy Spells). The band is also one of the most fun local bands to watch live – it was a pleasure to help host their record release party at The Mule Spinner this fall.

4. The Crowleys“Stargazer” Colours Change Their Tone

The Crowleys - Colours Change Their Tone
The Crowleys – Colours Change Their Tone

Released: February
The next local band poised for a breakout moment, for me, is The Crowleys. The psychedelic foursome have been steadily plugging away and this year we got their first proper EP release. The six spacey songs are rich and layered; each stands on its own. Colours Change Their Tone is an appropriate title for the collection of songs; it’s as if you can see and feel the colours the emerge with every song. The Crowleys are also one of the most exciting local bands to see live. Keep them high on your radar in 2019.

3. The Dirty Nil“That’s What Heaven Feels Like” Master Volume

The Dirty Nil - Master Volume
The Dirty Nil – Master Volume

Released: September
The Dirty Nil deliver above and beyond with their second full length offering Master Volume. Even though it’s only their second full length, the band has been pretty prolific with releases over the years. The trio is at the top of their game right now. In conjunction with the album’s release they absolutely crushed a main stage at Supercrawl; the explosive performance was the best one during the four-day, 10th annual festival. It’s impossible not to be incredibly stoked while listening to this album and it’s an easy pick of one of the year’s best.

2. Basement Revolver – “Baby” Heavy Eyes

Basement Revolver - Heavy Eyes
Basement Revolver – Heavy Eyes

Released: August
The most rewarding part of observing and supporting the local music scene is being a big fan of a band early on and then watching them hit their stride and have their moment. This year Basement Revolver had their well-deserved breakout year. (If you’re following – I actually expressed that exact same sentiment last year when gushing over their EP Agatha, which made #1 on my list). But now I really mean it!! 2018 was an even bigger year for the band with the release of their debut LP. The year also saw them playing one of the top billed spots at Supercrawl, joining Sonic Unyon Records in addition to already working with UK label Fear Of Missing Out, touring in the UK supporting Amber Arcades… it was a lot of milestones. Basement Revolver ended on a high note by adding a new member, turning them into a four-piece, and playing one final show of the year in their hometown.

1. Haolin Munk“Astro vs Greed Pt 1” (Feat. Emay) Planestasia Suite

Haolin Munk - Planestasia Suite
Haolin Munk – Planestasia Suite

Released: April
This has got to be the most ambitious local release of the year. I’ve followed Haolin Munk since this blog’s inception and even celebrated I Heart Hamilton’s third anniversary with them. The fab four: Connor Bennett, Chris Ferguson, Aaron Hutchinson, and Josh Wiener have consistently pushed musical boundaries and artistry, and they’ve really outdone themselves with concept album Planestasia Suite. The whole thing invites us into a narrative that chronicles fictional character Mal Astro, voiced by Mother Tareka, and features an all-star cast of characters including Lee Reed, Emay, Motëm, Jackson Darby and Benita Whyte (PERSONS), Becky Katz (Sourpussy), Mike Simon and Sarah Good (Pucumber Sasssquash Family Band) and Dan Edmonds, with an equally all-star recording process, working out of Threshold Recording Studio, Fort Rosie, HAVN, Gebbz Studio, and Pocket Shrine (by Michael Keire, Cohen Wylie, Aaron Hutchinson, Motëm, and Dan Edmonds). If you were lucky enough, you got to catch it played live back-to-back at two special events: this summer’s Strangewaves festival and a one-off night at Sous Bas. I caught the latter and, needless to say, it was out of this world.

Thanks for hanging out with me every year and for tuning in weekly on 93.3 CFMU! It means the world! Thank you to all of the artists who have shared your music. I can’t wait to hear what’s next. See you in 2019! ✌❤

Kristin Archer is the creator of I Heart Hamilton (www.ihearthamilton.ca), 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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