Here we go! I’m wrapping up the 10th year of I Heart Hamilton (we’ll celebrate the official 10th anniversary in May 2021). 2020 was a painful year for so many, and also a much needed time to pause and reflect. I know this year made me really stop in my tracks, re-evaluate everything, and remember to be so grateful for everything. Then to take that, and do what we can to stand up and be there for others.
This wild year didn’t stop the music – once again, it’s always difficult to pull together this list of best local releases. I’ll remind you to use this as your jumping off point to discovering more! When we get through this, our local music scene will need more support than ever.
To continue the tradition, I’m charting only EPs and albums. I’ll give honourable mentions to these singles released in 2020:
The Crowleys – “Making Friendly”
Family Of Things – “YKB”
Heather Janssen – “Crazy, for You”
Buddah Abusah ft. LTtheMonk – “BuddahMonk (Life’s A Mission)”
The Dirty Nil – “Doom Boy”
Chastity – “Drain The Bloodbath”
Capitol ft. ELIO – “Weathered”
Kvn Rose – “Messy”
4K Quay – “Marathon Moves”
Eric Brandon – “The Devil I Know”
Gareth Inkster – “Used To It”
Scott Orr – “Do You?”
Bianca Bernardi – “The Fire”
Calcedon – “To The Light”
iskwē & Lee Harvey Osmond – “Blue Moon Drive”
Here we go!
Arkells dropped a new tune, “Years In The Making” back February, and little did we know the year we were about to have! The band fully made the most of this unpredictable year, starting with Max Kerman entertaining fans at the top of the pandemic with his daily “Flatten The Curve” Instagram Live series. The band also brought us the stripped down album Campfire Chords, which included another new song, “Quitting You.” They ended the year strong with their first ever holiday song, “Pub Crawl“!
2020 was a year of missing out on the experience of live music. Being packed in together at a venue – I will never take it for granted again! Laura Cole’s Live At The Mule Spinner brought me joy and great memories of being at this very special show, at one of my favourite music spaces in Hamilton. It’s lovely to have the set list captured like this – full of gems from Laura’s discography, and a surprise Lizzo cover.
I’ve been a fan of the bluesy, gritty guitar and drum duo Two Stripes Down for years now. So many great memories of seeing these two in spots like The Baltimore House and Zyla’s. Those venues are tragically gone now, but that gritty, scrappy spirit lives on in their sound. The pair lives miles apart (Jimmy in Hamilton, Andrew in Australia), but they came together this year to bring us their debut EP.
Freaky Boos are Becky Katz, Aaron Hutchinson, and Jackson Darby. If you’re familiar with these musicians, you know you’re in for a fun ride of experimental musical stylings before even pressing play on this album. From field recordings and samples, to live instrumentation, this release is a full immersive experience. I love the album’s final, meditative track. Little did I know when the year began how much I would need that calm reminder. I’m Exposed is the second full-length release on Jackson’s Personal Records, now based out of Montreal.
Producer and singer-songwriter Shanika Maria has beautifully spanned many musical genres since she first impressed with her debut single “Childish Games” back in 2017. Her debut full-length, Subtle Uncertainties, was among my Best Of 2019. Introducing a new project this year, shn shn, Shanika dove into production and beat making. The songs are meditative, lush, and ambient, taking you floating along from one to the next. It’s a gorgeous listen.
Did I mention how much I’m missing live music this year?! Here’s a band I’ll be excited to see live whenever we can, but in the meantime, Bad Crush brings the noise with their debut EP. Gritty punk, surf rock, and riot grrrl vibes; it’s a super fun, feisty collection of songs that pack a punch.
Singer-songwriter Bonnie Hamilton has been in and around the local music scene for quite some time. This year, she took a huge leap and inspired with her debut release, When Stars Collide. Inspiring and passionate, the music is a beautiful blend of soul, funk, jazz, ska, and reggae.
Devin Bateson consistently puts out some of my favourite experimental music. The musician always impresses with his hand-crafted beats and samples paired with intricate and clever, often existential lyrics. He’s done it again with Swift-Tuttle!
Naked House, aka Damon Guyett, delivered a great new release this year with Waves Goodbye. It’s my favourite yet from the multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter. Damon wrote, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered the album himself. It’s an exciting listen all the way through and I never knew what to expect from each track. The musician plays a wide array of instruments including piano, synthesizers, banjo, synth bass, trumpet, ukulele, glockenspiel, electric and acoustic guitar, a ton of percussive instruments, and more.
I’ve mentioned how much I’ve missed live music this year, right?! We all have! Hearing the loud, gritty, live-off-the-floor recordings that make up TV Freaks’ new album People, well, that hits the spot until we can get back to an in-person, face-melting live show. This year the band also brought us Scraps Vol. 1, a collection of previously unheard b-sides, demos, covers, and rarities.
It wouldn’t be an annual countdown list without new music from Lee Reed. The emcee always keeps it real with his lyrics, and this year more than ever was a critical one for all of us to dig in, be alert, and take action. This COVID-inspired EP was written in May and June, and Lee describes it as “part anti-capitalist analysis and part real life dystopian sci-fi rap opera.”
Dan Snaith, aka Caribou, is originally of Dundas, so I still count him among our local scene! We got a great new record, Suddenly, this year, which went on to make the Polaris Music Prize Short List yet again (Caribou previously won the Prize in 2008 for Andorra). So many great moments on this one – shout out to “Never Come Back” for also keeping me moving this year.
We got a taste of Granny Smith, aka Jason Bhattacharya, with A Hint Of Granny this spring. The multi-instrumentalist had even more up his sleeve for us! It was a plentiful year of new music, as he also gave us a second album, Granxiety, plus two more singles after that. This album is a delightfully groovy and laid back batch of tunes.
Partly Stabilized, Partly Curious isn’t Paulo Leon’s first album, but it was my introduction to the young artist, making him one of my favourite local discoveries this year. At just 20 years old, Paulo has been creating music and art throughout his teens, including MC-ing, slam poetry, improvised performances, and producing. The album was released with new local record label and art collective Andthenyoudie, consisting of mainly POC of different creatives and artists who seek to share their lived experiences via the power of art. Excited for more to come!
Terra Lightfoot dropped her much-anticipated 4th record this year, Consider The Speed. The title track is an irresistible rock song (accompanied by a delightful music video filmed in Gage Park) that will instantly get stuck in your head. The album is soulful, joyful, and filled with fantastic guitar licks and bold vocals we know and love from Terra.
Since rock’n’rollas Shade reintroduced themselves in 2018, they’ve really hit their stride. A string of stellar singles led the way for their first full collection of tunes, Combat Rave. When the first track hits, “Brain Suck” literally does just that, and pulling you right in. Really missing the chance to have seen these guys play live this year, and I’m sure it killed them too! When we can get back to it, though, I’ll be front row.
Hamilton producer Onglish and Toronto rapper Scribe came together to form the dynamic duo S.O.A.P. (Scribe & Onglish aren’t perfect). This new chapter may be new for the pair, but they already have a rich musical history together. They say, “Over the course of 5 years, Scribe & Onglish developed a culture of risk & trust, allowing their music to become a single-minded effort, rather than just matching bars to beats. The project is dynamic, flows & instrumentation shifting like a plot.”
A Hutchie, aka Aaron Hutchinson, shared the exciting new experimental album Potion Shop as we began winding down the year. You can always expect a fun ride when experiencing music from this musician (also catch him earlier on this list as a member of Freaky Boos). A Hutchie formed a great community of collaborators for this release: Emay, Sarah Good, Ian Keteku, Trevor Turple, Benita Whyte, and Blankie.
Jessy Lanza made her discography into a stellar trifecta when she dropped her third offering, All The Time, this summer. Shimmery jams were just the ticket for the season. Plenty of great press followed the release plus unique virtual performances. We got one more treat from Jessy at the end of the year – the remix EP 24/7.
Any easy pick to be high up on my list of faves this year – Born Again by Ellis. Listen to my interview with Linnea Siggelkow of Ellis on 93.3 CFMU at the start of this year to learn more about the album. The release show at The Casbah was one of my favourite shows this year, and little did we know at the time, that usual long list of shows was cut all too short. Until the band can get back on the road once more, Ellis used the down time from touring to bring us two more releases this year, the Bedroom Covers EP and the Saturn Returned remix EP.
2020 was the year we finally got a full length release from Illitry! It was worth the wait and was meant to happen now. For the duration of this blog (almost a decade, now!), Illitry has been one of my favourite local music projects to watch. All of Illitry (aka Troy Witherow)’s body of work has led up to this point – Dalinean Horses is a magical, immersive, beautiful album.
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 2021 ❤️ Kristin