Jon Hynes is a new addition to Ottawa’s burgeoning music community, but he is by no means new to the indie music industry in Canada. Having recently relocated to Ottawa from Toronto, Hynes got his musical start in St. John’s over a decade ago and was involved in the punk and hardcore scene there. While in Toronto, he became involved with such acts as The Hidden Cameras, Evening Hymns, Gentleman Reg, Kathleen Edwards, and Hey Rosetta!, amongst others. While growing up he also learned several instruments, which came in handy while recording his most recent album Watchful Creatures since he played nearly every instrument on the record. That’s pretty cool.
I first met Jon after he and his music scene cohorts, including Rolf Klausener of The Acorn, put together a great new series called I Can’t Believe It’s Not. The night was wild and fun, and seeing Jon and co. playing Is This It by The Strokes front to back to a full house at the Manx was incredible. I vaguely recall Rolf thanking Jon for bringing the idea to Ottawa, and we were all thankful too.
Watchful Creatures will be released in Ottawa tonight (July 25) at Pressed, and it is the debut full-length from Jon as a solo act. For many of us, the anticipation of this album was building – we all knew what he is capable of, but I wasn’t sure how the album was going to sound or come together. Plus, his press photo is just him eating breakfast with his cat. Seriously, awesome.
The album is an absolute home run, and probably one of my favourite local releases this year so far. In no way does Hynes subscribe to a cookie-cutter singer/songwriter formula for writing songs. Working with producer James Bunton (Obijou, KASHKA, Evening Hymns), the layered instrumentals weave throughout Watchful Creatures, giving it a complexity that allows one to have a new experience through each listen. The songs leave the listener wanting, each one is a carefully crafted work on its own, and adds something special to the album as a whole. For me, not knowing what to expect from song to song is a secret joy that makes listening to an album front to back exciting. I spoke to Jon briefly, and he puts it well:
I didn’t go into the studio with a set amount of songs like most bands. As I was writing I was recording simultaneously, and I wasn’t going for a certain theme or continuity, per se, I was going for feel. If the songs felt right they made it on the album. I wanted to make an album that I would be excited to listen to. Something that showed musical and lyrical diversity and dynamics. Beck is incredible at doing that. Every song on Odelay is it’s own.
Watchful Creatures is a great feat, and an album that everyone would enjoy. Even Jon’s old punk buddies from back in the day would like it. One of my favourite tracks on the album is the opener, “Sea Diver.” It’s upbeat pop touch propels the listener into the rest of the album, and gives life to it instantly. The rest of the album is more grounded, bringing us closer to what lies beneath and giving us transcendental melodies. Songs like “Forever, Kathleen (for the books),” “The Later Ones,” and, my personal favourite, “Opinion Piece” (which contains backing vocals from members of Hey Rosetta!) are all beautiful tales from the heart that can whisk you away. This album will make you think, feel, and remind you to listen closely after you press play.
And dammit, if I have to rob a bank for Watchful Creatures to be pressed in vinyl, I’ll do it. Jon will be taking off later this summer for a 6-week Canada/U.S. stint drumming for The Wooden Sky, and he also toured as the drummer for Evening Hymns last year. Don’t forget to hit Pressed tonight for the Ottawa release party!