It’s time to wrap up another year! 2019 marks the eighth year of I Heart Hamilton. Once again I urge you to get out there, go to shows, buy music/merch, and become invested in your local music scene. It’s always so difficult to narrow down and rank a list and get to as many artists as possible – make this your jumping off point to discovering more! Here are my favourite releases out of Hamilton in 2019.
To continue the tradition, I’m charting only EPs and albums. I’ll give honourable mentions to these singles released in 2019:
The Crowleys – “Clarice”
Mount Farewell – “Way She Moves”
Fanny Price – “Ends So Soon”
Scott Orr – “Stay Awake On The Phone”
Ellevator – “Running Up That Hill” (Kate Bush cover)
Ellis – “Something Blue”
PERSONS – “Airborne” / “Time To”
Caribou – “Home”
Daphni – “Sizzling”
Gareth Inkster – “Vermilion”
Munroe – “Wreak Havoc”
Here we go!
One of the coolest parts about documenting my local travels since 2011 is seeing a project evolve. Troy Witherow has always been one of my favourite musicians to watch. We’ve seen several evolutions of Illitry and his music is still some the best that I’ve ever heard come out of Hamilton. I had really missed their live shows, and in November I caught them at a special house show at Jillard Guitars. The new music sounds amazing and there is a new EP in the works. I can’t wait. In the meantime, 2019 saw the re-release of Illitry’s EP Sunset on local label Other Songs. Troy also helped me celebrate the 6th anniversary of I Heart Hamilton, the radio show on 93.3 CFMU, in November with a special live performance.
We were given two great releases from Slow Healer (a.k.a. Mitch Fillion) this year – Always Trippin’ (July) and Every Now And Then (September). After many years spent working with countless musicians as the awesome filmmaker behind Southern Souls, I loved getting to hear Mitch’s voice and vision for his own music.
Already a staple of Hamilton’s singer-songwriter scene, Gillian Nicola delivered her first full length album this year, following 2016’s EP No Place To Call. After playing countless shows, writing songs, and heading to Banff Centre to participate in its prestigious Singer-Songwriter Residency, all of Gillian’s hard work paid off with a terrific album. The record is a confident statement from this talented songwriter and vocalist, and this powerful song in particular is a standout track.
After hearing a few songs in the past, it was awesome to hear a proper release from singer-songwriter Lisa (born and raised in Montreal, now Hamilton-based). Her self-titled EP is a lovely listen, with quirky visuals to compliment (or perhaps to keep you on your toes). Catch Lisa coming up January 3 at The Casbah for the annual tradition of Exclaim!’s Class of 2020 show (alongside Capitol, Basement Revolver, and Dizzy Spells).
Essen, a.k.a. Spence Newell, has appeared on these year-end lists of mine before with his band New Hands. Now disbanded, they were always my favourites in Hamilton. With the solo project Essen, we see Spence digging back into music in a similar vein, but with a unique sound all his own. Predictive Step is his debut studio EP, produced by Scott Orr and released on Other Songs. You’ll hear some sweet saxophone on two tracks by Connor Bennett of Haolin Munk.
The start of this year saw the debut full length from Shanika Maria, the follow up to 2017’s EP Childish Games. The record was made at Fort Rose, mixed and mastered by Aaron Hutchinson, and also released locally by Celestial Voodoo. The album defies genres – from the country twang of “Man Or Monster” to the updated electronic version of “Mouth Eaters.” All the while, the record is cohesive and still maintains the intimate, lo-fi sound and vulnerable, honest lyrics we have come to know from Shanika. Hearing the songs live with the full band is always a great show as well – hoping for more appearances from Shanika in 2020!
A new artist on my radar this year, I first spotted emcee and singer Gisy Mohamed as part of Hamilton Youth Poets. After releasing a few songs, he delivered his debut EP this year, 18 Years Young, and I was so impressed. Only great things to come from this young artist. Listen to my chat with Gisy earlier this year on 93.3 CFMU and watch the interview (thanks Gisy and Moe for capturing it!).
It was an excellent year for indie rockers Capitol who hit their stride with the release of their debut album Dream Noise. You can pick up on influences from 70’s punk, to modern indie rock, to 80’s new wave, and it all results in a cohesive album that beautifully flows from one track to the next. Listen back to my chat with the band on 93.3 CFMU and catch them live on January 3 at The Casbah for the annual tradition of Exclaim!’s Class of 2020 show (along with Lisa, Basement Revolver, and Dizzy Spells).
LifeandtheTribe is one of my favourite new local acts to discover this year. The five-piece R&B/soul band is the brainchild of lead singer Aisha Barrow. Her debut EP Eye-Sha is such a strong introduction to the artist and this bop “L.I.N.T” is one I keep revisiting. After its release, we also got two great new singles from LifeandtheTribe this year, “Bird” and “What You Want.” Aisha also makes an appearance on my number one spot – keep reading! I’m looking forward to watching this band develop – listen back to my conversation with Aisha on 93.3 CFMU this summer.
Singer-songwriter Elise Arsenault’s second EP This Is A Reunion is another happy discovery for me this year. The artist made a home for herself here after coming to Hamilton for school and deciding to stay, and she makes a wonderful addition to our local scene that is rich with singer-songwriters and voices. This EP was recorded in Surrey, BC with producer Roy Salmond (who worked with Jon Bryant – another great musical discovery for me this year). This song is one that really stood out to me this year and I’m looking forward to hearing more from Elise.
Sarah Good and the Bads’ The Glorious, Disgorged is one of the more underrated local releases of the year. There is nothing else like it. At times chaotic, at times hypnotic, it’s an experimental pop rock record featuring a great cast of local talent with the gorgeous vocals of Sarah Good at its core. Sarah Good (guitar, lead vocals, harmonies, glock, theremin, psaltery), Adam Fritch (bass), Mark Raymond (drums/ harmonies), Annie Shaw (keys, synths/all things keyboard related, harmonies, glock, psalter), Katie Penrose (vocals/onyx choir), Aaron Hutchinson (vocals/onyx choir), Katie Howie (vocal sample/onyx). The album was recorded and mixed by Aaron Hutchinson, mastered by Adam Bentley and Jordan Mitchell, and also released locally on HAVN Records.
With so many local releases to keep track of, I almost missed this EP from singer-songwriter Shawn Kerr (from Parry Sound/Hamilton, now Toronto-based, but I’m still counting the artist as one of our own!). I was a fan of Shawn as the drummer of Hamilton band The Human Orchestra and it’s awesome to hear the artist exploring his own sound. This EP is a true gem – four really beautiful, well-produced tracks, that are layered and reveal more with every listen. I absolutely love the electronic elements mixed in with what is already a strong singer-songwriter base. The artist also fulfilled a Hamilton rite of passage this year, playing Supercrawl.
We’re fortunate to have talented artist iskwē now as part of Hamilton’s music scene. Her genre-defying sound can be described as alternative-electronic/danceable moodiness, and with every release comes incredibly impactful and emotional songs. The great achākosīk is the follow up to 2017‘s The Fight Within, also a standout release from that year. Always a dynamic live show not to be missed – the next major show is coming up January 17 at The Mod Club in Toronto. It was a pleasure to get to talk with iskwē again on the show at 93.3 CFMU to learn more about the album.
Dan Edmonds moved from the lo-fi sounds of his debut album Ladies on the Corner (2016) to a more sophisticated, gentle ambient style with this year’s follow up, Softie. The move suits the artist so perfectly. Each track is short and sweet, with every one clocking in at under three minutes. It’s just such a dreamy listen; you’ll want to hit play again (or drop the needle down again) when it’s over.
Singer-songwriter Alex Whorms released her second EP in 2019 and it has been a great year for this young artist. Reflecting the title, Burgundy is incredibly warm and rich, and it also shows wonderful growth and maturity from her last release. The EP was recorded locally with Amy King at legendary Grant Avenue Studio. I love the gorgeous piano and string arrangements – it’s hard to pick a favourite song. “I’ll Be Gone” is another standout track. We got to celebrate the album’s release day on the air this fall at 93.3 CFMU – listen back to my chat with Alex.
Don’t sleep on the talents of Devin Bateson – he’s one of my favourite local creators and Ossiscope is one of the most creative albums I heard this year. A prolific beatmaker, Devin created beats along with recording sounds in the wild – in a forest, a graveyard, even Ikea (see the great “Hikea”). His lyrics are always so poignant and I love his way with words and rhythm. A huge highlight for me this year was being part of the monthly Smooth Comedy shows at The Staircase where Devin is the resident musician (don’t miss the next show – January 24). Honourable mentions also go to Devin’s album of b-sides, Bread On The Inside, and Devin’s newest album, Conversational Relaxation (with Manolis), that are also deserving of a shout out on this list.
Producer/DJ Onglish (a.k.a Brett Klassen) released a high calibre and ambitious project this year with the album Wav Pocket. Described as “a two-sided reflection on rhythm and feeling,” the ten songs are split into the Wav Side and the Pocket Side, with the songs from the Wav Side sampling elements from the songs from the Pocket Side. The project also spans genres, with songs featuring rappers Lex Leosis and Keysha Freshh (of The Sorority), and Scribe, house grooves with singer/songwriter Shanika Maria, lo-fi R&B with Earlybird, afro-house with Kojo “Easy” Damptey, and a hip hop/house/funk hybrid with Thaddeus. Listen to my interview with Onglish about the album on 93.3 CFMU.
Don Vail made a triumphant return this year! Stand Of Tide busts out of the gate with immediacy, catching your attention right away. It’s a pleasure to ride this wave until the end. This single is easily one of my favourite songs out of Hamilton this year – my hat’s off to Mitch Bowden, Matthew Fleming, Victor Malang, and Kori Pop on a really great record. The album was recorded and mixed by Mitch Bowden at Mechanical Noise and was mastered by João Carvalho, whose credits also include our next entry…
Basement Revolver continue an amazing track record on these year-end lists (following last year’s full length Heavy Eyes being near the top of 2018 and taking the number one spot in 2017 with EP Agatha). The band delivered a batch of new material this year with the EP Wax and Digital, released on local Sonic Unyon Records, and it’s my favourite collection from the band yet. At the end of last year, band members Chrisy Hurn, Nimal Agalawatte, and Brandon Munro introduced a new member, Jonathan Malström, and hit the ground running. This year the band traveled to Germany along with a bunch of Southern Ontario dates. They’ll start the new year strong as part of two Exclaim! Class of 2020 shows including January 3 at The Casbah. Hear my chat with Chrisy on the day of the EP’s release on 93.3 CFMU.
It was a really great year for Family Of Things. The band was already on my radar but quickly worked their way to the top of my list as ones to watch. With their debut full length Oscilloscope, they achieve a signature sound all their own, and back it up every time with a wicked live show. This lead single “Basement” became one of my favourite songs of the year, and not just within the local context. An awesome highlight this year was going to see Tame Impala in July at Budweiser Stage in Toronto and seeing these guys rock The River Bar before the show. Only onward and upward for Family Of Things in 2020. Listen back to our chat this summer on 93.3 CFMU.
I want to hear local artists bringing something new to the table, and this year LTtheMonk delivered just that. I had such a great feeling about London, UK-born LT from the first time I met him back in September 2018 on 93.3 CFMU. From there, it was a pleasure to book the band for one of my shows at The Mule Spinner in Fall 2018. It has been awesome watching this artist fully make Hamilton his home. He and the band – the equally stellar Santiago Rozo-Paz, Lucas Hibbs, Cam Watson – keep getting better with every show. Together they achieved huge local milestones this year: a packed album release show at Mills Hardware, playing the City of Hamilton Arts Awards, playing Supercrawl, coming full circle with a farewell show for Artwork Artbar (where they first performed as a band after connecting at Mohawk College), to signing to Sonic Unyon Records’ management roster. LT’s second full length album Kinks, Drinks & Hip Hop is such a fun ride from start to finish and makes an easy choice to take the top spot when I look back on local releases in 2019.
Thank you as always for hanging out with me online every year and for tuning in weekly on 93.3 CFMU! Thank you to all of the artists who have shared your music. See you in 2020! ✌❤
〰️ At the time of this post I have a professional relationship with Sonic Unyon Records. Thoughts about the music are my own. 〰️