Let’s go! This year I celebrated the 10th Anniversary of I Heart Hamilton. What a ride! Music has been such an incredible part of the journey. If you missed it – give the 10th Anniversary Playlist a spin to commemorate the milestone. I had a really nostalgic time putting it together. So many memories are tied to this local soundtrack, and I’m so grateful for all of it.
It’s also year two of a global pandemic, and another year gone by that we couldn’t connect at live shows. However, once again that didn’t stop the amazing creativity in this city. As always, it is so difficult to narrow down a Best-Of list. As I always say, use this as your jumping off point to discovering more, and show your support for local artists.
To continue the honoured tradition, I’m charting only EPs and albums. First, I’ll give honourable mentions to these singles released in 2021 – more than ever before, there are A LOT that I loved this year:
LifeandtheTribe – “Type” [Listen]
Granny Smith – “Ode 2 A King” [Listen]
Gareth Inkster – “Thank You” [Listen]
Chastity – “Losing A Whole Year” (Third Eye Blind cover) [Listen]
Chastity – “Pummeling” [Listen]
Miles From Nowhere – “Orchard Drive” [Listen]
The Crowleys – “Slowly” [Listen]
The Crowleys – “Lampshade” [Listen]
Family Of Things – “Harm” (Live) [Listen]
Ellevator – “Easy” [Listen]
Basement Revolver – “Transatlantic” [Listen]
Myla – “Come Over” [Listen]
Gisy Mohamed – “Is That Okay?” [Listen]
CoolFace the DJ & LTtheMonk – “Sous Bas” [Listen]
Julianna Jones – “Bad For Me” [Listen]
Ariana Fig – “polar opposite” [Listen]
Delta Days – “R.N.R.” [Listen]
Father Christmas – “Infinite Time” [Listen]
The Redhill Valleys – “Finish Line” [Listen]
Munroe – “Don’t Rush To Get Old” [Listen]
Athanase – “Shoreline” [Listen]
Heather Janssen – “Loving Somebody Like You” [Listen]
Elley Jeeze – “Knock” [Listen]
ParkfromCC – “I Got You” [Listen]
Ryan Sykes – “Love Yourself” [Listen]
Paulo Leon – “Chicken Little” [Listen]
Alex Whorms – “Insensitive” (Jann Arden cover) [Listen]
Mandolynne – “Scream” [Listen]
Joys – “Gloria” [Listen]
AIOFE – “SID” [Listen]
Bianca Bernardi – “Throwin’ Dust” [Listen]
Mohamed – “Never There” [Listen]
Hilda – “I do it for myself” [Listen]
Allegories – “Pray” [Listen]
Here we go!
Bryce Clifford divides his time creating music between Austin, Texas and Hamilton. You can hear a range of influences in his music, from melodic indie-rock, to country, and your good ol’ fashioned, straight up rock n’ roll. Bryce ended the year with a full length album, Rebounder, and a celebration at Clifford Brewing, which he also recently collaborated with for the super fun (and tasty!) Brewha: East Hamilton release.
With an upbeat, quirky soundtrack, The Ferns get existential and introspective. I love that juxtaposition – moving to the beet (see what I did there?) while also contemplating the meaning of life. Kurt and Luke also recorded, produced and mixed the record themselves.
After years honing their sound, The Ruddy Ruckus delivered their debut LP this year. Described as a gritty sonic representation of living in Hamilton, the album starts in full force right out of the gate! The release was produced by Luke Bentham (The Dirty Nil), engineered by Vince Soliveri (The Redhill Valleys), mixed by Dave Schiffman (PUP, Vampire Weekend, The OBGMs) and mastered by Harry Hess (Big Wreck, Monster Truck).
I was really into this slick release from A Hutchie (based in Hamilton) and NPNP (based in Montreal). Both artists (Aaron Hutchinson and Jackson Darby, respectively) are no strangers to my annual local Best Of lists. Together, they launched Cold Cache, a boutique, hand-cut dance label, to release COCO // TOMO. It consists of two original mixes, one by each artist, along with reimagined versions by the other.
Hamilton-based beatmaker, experimental hip hop artist, and visual artist Devin Bateson dropped a new collection of beats during his birthday month! The project had been in the works for a few years, evolving over time. Later in the year, Devin also released Heart FROLB featuring more tracks which didn’t make the initial cut. Check out my interview with Devin on 93.3 CFMU for a more in-depth discussion about the making of BLORF.
Folk singer-songwriter Heather Valley shared a collection of covers for lovers of alt-country and Americana. With each track, she uses her own sincere delivery and storytelling skills to make each tale her own. In a year of missing out on live music again, Heather was one of the few I had the pleasure of seeing perform, on a warm summer evening outside The Gasworks and under a golden glow. Heather ends the year with a brand new single, “Great Violence.”
This track is the energy we need going into 2022! House Warming Party was a summer highlight during my local music adventures. Lead single “Strangers” in particular was a favourite summer jam! With this EP, Luckystickz showcases more of his skills – further cementing his signature Afro R&B/pop sound, his infectious positive energy, and of course, expert skills as a Steelpan artist/percussionist. It’s a fantastic follow-up to his 2017 debut EP, Every Day Battle.
Mean Streaks is one of my favourite local discoveries in 2021. New on the scene, it’s the musical project of Omar Saab, whose roots are in garage rock with touches of synth pop. There is a great urgency and punk rock energy to these four tracks; the EP packs a memorable punch. It sounds like a full band, but Omar plays most of the instruments, with the help of Graeme Moffatt on bass (Buster Crabtree, Dan Edmonds, Kirty, A Hutchie). The songs were all mastered by Aaron Hutchinson (a.k.a. A Hutchie) at Fort Rose here in Hamilton.
The eclectic duo Magic Duck (Andrew Gair and Kyle Kitchen) dropped one of the most interesting listens this year with Watch My Movie, released with local label, Wel-Pel Records. The pair drew inspiration from what could be seen as unlikely sources – the Grease soundtrack and other musical theatre productions. This is very relevant to my interests! With the death of Stephen Sondheim this year, I have been reflecting on how much musical theatre informed my relationship to music very early on. Magic Duck is a band that consistently thinks outside of the box, and I’m excited to see what they cook up next.
Arkells fully lean into their anthemic pop sensibilities with Blink Once. These songs were built for their signature stadium live shows, and the tracks will be welcomed additions to their ever-growing set lists. Arkells had another big year, returning to the stage in August with “Long Weekend,” three back-to-back, sold-out shows at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage.. They finished the year with a career highlight, headlining the 108th Grey Cup Halftime Show, historically here in Hamilton. Next up, we have another edition of The Rally at Tim Hortons Field to look forward to, if all goes to plan, on June 25, 2022.
Alternative/emo rockers King Park have been steady in the local scene for years now, and put forth their best collection yet with Everett. They give everything they have to this one, and the album is moody, angsty and cathartic, a fitting soundtrack to dive into this year to let it all go.
Scott Orr and the roster of his label, Other Songs, have been a part of I Heart Hamilton’s soundtrack from the beginning – with both of us surpassing our milestone 10th anniversaries. His latest album Oh Man is a gorgeous, meditative listen, and also his most musically adventurous yet. Scott has also found great success with his podcast, Other Record Labels, which expanded into online courses and a book. It’s a fantastic resource for indie musicians.
Good Fortune Assembly is the third full-length album from Dan Edmonds, and it’s a wonderful progression for the musician. (Dan is now on the management roster of Straight & Narrow along with Aaron Dessner, Big Red Machine, Hannah Georgas, and more). It’s an even more mature next chapter, following 2019’s Softie. Dan calls this particular track “a celebration of collaboration, of community, and shared warmth,” which reflects the collaborative nature of this album as a whole. You’ll hear contributions from Aaron Hutchinson, Adrian Underhill, Jason Bhattacharya, Luka Kuplowsky, Lydia Persaud, Sam Weber, and more. I also love hearing a city reflected in music; you’ll hear a reference to a local restaurant in the candid track “Wass II.”
The Stars is re-imagination of iskwē’s award-winning album acākosīk. Already a stunning album to begin with, this collection of songs is presented in a whole new light. The emotional album features new arrangements (by Darren Fung) with iskwē accompanied by a trio of piano (Michael Shand), cello (Mariel Gonzalez), and violin (Laura C Bates) recorded live-off-the-floor at Revolution Recording in Toronto and a dramatic orchestral reimagining of this track, “Night Danger (Lovers Mix)” recorded with the FILMharmonic Orchestra (Prague). iskwē presented the collection with a beautiful livestream event which was a standout of the year.
Capitol is a five-piece indie project composed of brothers and best friends. Their eclectic sound fuses 80s New Wave with modern alternative and dream pop. You can tell the band hunkered down and put so much care into this new EP – they don’t release material lightly. It’s a tight, concise release, proving once again they are one of my faves to watch in our local music scene. Their music always has a beautiful cinematic quality – it should be in demand for tv and film! The EP was also created at one of my favourite Hamilton studios, Threshold Studios, where it was produced by Michael Keire and recorded and mixed by Michael Keire and Cohen Wylie.
I knew this one would rank highly as soon as I heard it – Duckai delivered one of my favourite local releases this year. The EP DUCK! came as such a refreshing surprise. Duckai, a.k.a. Ezekai Robinson, shared on Instagram: “I’ve decided I wanted to separate me and the music on my next project. Through the artist name Duckai I want to encourage others to break boundaries, step out of their comfort zone, allow themselves to have fun and experiment more with how they can express themselves. I’m going to allow my creativity to fully blossom with this.” Looking forward to hearing more from this emerging talent.
Vuja De, Timid, the Brave’s third full-length album, is a beautiful release that really deserves your time and attention. I have always been a big fan of Tim Selles’ songwriting, and he levels up again with more gorgeously crafted, introspective songs. Along with the album, he shared a lyric book which enhances the appreciation for his writing. He shares: “I hope those lyrics and moments in the songs stand out to you and bring new insights as you listen.” The instrumentation on the record is also beautiful and expands the sonic experience, which began with Tim’s bedroom demos. Fellow singer-songwriter Gareth Inskter takes on a dozen different instruments throughout the recording process while also engineering the record and co-producing the record with Tim.
London, UK-born, Hamilton-based emcee LTtheMonk leveled up yet again with the release of his third full-length album, On The Wall. It’s an immersive listen and his best work yet. A concept album, it draws inspiration from filmmaker Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, his favourite movie and album, respectively. “DeVante (In Your Hands)” is an easy selection for one of my favourite, and most played, local tracks of the year. LT incorporated local collaborations in art, film, and fashion to help build out the universe of On The Wall.
Ellis is two for two! Her debut LP, Born Again, hit #2 on last year’s list. After releasing such a great album, tour plans stalled in 2020 due to the pandemic, a heartbreaking situation for so many artists. This new EP, however, is a beautiful silver lining. Linnea Siggelkow released the EP independently, and co-produced it with Charlie Spencer of Dizzy. Each of the four tracks is a complete standout on its own. The album’s closer, “hell,” features Brandon Williams of Chastity. The pair’s vocals are so wonderful together, and Brandon also released some highlights for me this year (see the top of this post!)
The Dirty Nil dropped this album, brilliantly, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and with that, set the bar for my favourite local album of 2021. Here we are a year later – and it remains unmatched! “Doom Boy” has been stuck in my head for a solid chunk of this year, and I’m not mad about it. With the dicey conditions for touring this year, The Nil still managed to hit the road and connect with fans, and I know their live show was a welcomed escape for many. Until we can gather for a hometown show, crank this up. Check out a killer live video for this track!
Thank you once again for connecting with me online every year and for tuning in Fridays 2-3pm ET on 93.3 CFMU (you can catch all the episodes right here on the blog as well!). Thank you to all of the artists who have shared your music. See you in 2022 ❤️ Kristin