Alas, the year has come to an end. It’s hard to believe another 365 days have passed and that we’re now closer to 2020 than 2010. 2015 was as impressive – if not more so – than other years passed. We saw Ottawa music veterans release brand new, fresh sounding tunes that demonstrate their lasting power and presence in the community. We also saw exciting new bands come out of nowhere and surprise us with great albums, showing that the city is cultivating talented artists who are overflowing with creativity.
Once again we kept our ear to the ground about all the music being released in Ottawa, and we have come up with what we think is a pretty good representation of the best music being made in our little corner of Canada (in no particular order). We’ve also included essential tracks for your listening pleasure. Without further ado, we encourage you to sit back, relax, and dive into the best of the best in Ottawa.
Avalanche is the fifth release and follow-up to Mattson‘s 2014 Polaris-nominated album Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold, and serves as a step in brand new direction for the Ottawa-via-Sault Ste. Marie artist. Mattson approached the six-track EP with a pop sensibility, infusing the album with more upbeat and aesthetic that stray from traditional folk that we heard on Someday. However, Avalanche still delivers us Kalle Mattson at the core – raw, intimate, and heart bursting at the seams. Mattson is already a seasoned artist, but is clearly still evolving and developing his talents as a musician. With each album, he draws listeners in closer and shows us just what he’s made of.
By Matías Muñoz
It’s been five years since Rolf Klausener released his acclaimed album No Ghost, and almost a decade since his seminal Glory Hope Mountain. Although he’s been busy curating Arboretum Festival in Ottawa and releasing music with his other project Silkken Laumann since then, Vieux Loup has been in the works for several years – even if only in Klausener’s mind. His ability to convey imagery and emotion in his music has not diminished. Delicate guitar melodies are intertwined with groove-laden synth beats, signifying Klausener’s movement forward as a musician while staying true to his past.
Excerpt from Mixtape Magazine – Best of 2015 (By Matías Muñoz – December 22, 2015)
Although Ottawa’s music scene is small, there are plenty of musicians from the nation’s capital that are creating some really incredible music. Take Veldbrand by Bosveld. The album is the brainchild of Théan Slabbert of Ottawa-via-South Africa, one of many talents to emerge out of a brilliant and dynamic class of musicians in the city. He has teamed up with some of the best in Ottawa to make this highly-anticipated debut full-length LP. Slabbert’s vocals are reminiscent of a deeper, more brooding style similar to Jonsi, which melds flawlessly with the intricate and flowing guitar melodies. Veldbrand is woven with dramatic and moving soundscapes, and could very well represent the future sound of folk music.
Excerpt from Mixtape Magazine – Best of 2015 (By Matías Muñoz – December 22, 2015)
HILOTRONS released their sixth album To Trip With Terpsichore (pron: tûrp-sĭk′ə-rē or terp-sick-ree) in February 2015 in digital format, and on vinyl two months later. Since Mike Dubue is now working with the new band, he wanted to keep things as fresh as possible.
“We recorded it live off the floor in about a day and mixed it in about a week. It’s pretty short and that’s how we wanted it. It’s sort of like Black Market Clash where the A-side is like an EP and the B-side has three remixes. It’s raw, dirty, off the floor, and nothing polished. (Mike Dubue)”.
Excerpt from Megaphono Artist Profile: HILOTRONS (By Matías Muñoz – February 4, 2015)
Foreign Life opens like a newspaper, words and images materialize before the eyes and vanish instantly, leaving you with a trace of their meaning. Distant voices fade in, thoughts like wisps of smoke curl off of a buoyant electronic pulse, compelling you to let the paper fall and dream deep in your armchair. But Pony Girl (So Sorry Recs) know about your attention span, and they will make sure you listen. The motorik beat that occurs around the halfway mark of album opener “Foreign Life I” feels like a logical extension of the dreamy waves that precede it. Right away one is introduced to the painterly aesthetic of Pony Girl and the palette they will use on this album.
Foreign Life, the sophomore album from the Ottawa band, is a collage of emotion and style, well lit and finely mounted. Each song a small canvas with a dramatic point of focus, be it rolling acoustic guitar, electronic beat or voice. Sugary pop tunes leap out of synthscapes and run naked through your ears. Pony Girl appear to have passed through the recent New Folk movement carrying a pastel distillation of its crucial elements. The elegant arrangement of acoustic and electronic, the sighing winds and the seething synths, it harks familiar yet is presented in a uniquely stream-lined form.
Excerpt from New Music: Pony Girl – Foreign Life (By Matt W. Smith – December 7, 2015)
[Hedera] itself is minimalistic, meditative, yet so full of brilliant moments that they are difficult to keep track of. There is a comfort/discomfort contrast that arises and disappears at various points throughout the album. The dissonant and distorted secondary vocals in “Garden I (You Own To Fight)”, for example, contrasts with beautiful and tranquil vocal and instrumental melodies.
[…] After spending the last two years focused on the music of others, the self-taught musician experienced a surge of writing and creativity his first time outside of the country. His initial 72 hours in San Juan he said nothing and wrote most of what would become Hedera. […] Vallentin utilizes a variety of instruments, from a heavenly-sounding hollow body guitar to electronic elements. Ultimately, the record is a smattering of beautifully crafted notes, melodies, and sounds.
Excerpt from New Music: Isaac Vallentin – Hedera (By Matías Muñoz – July 3, 2015)
It’s been a long time coming for fans of Scattered Clouds, an experimental noise & psychedelic pop trio led by Philippe Charbonneau, with Jamie Kronick and Pierre-Luc Clément. The band’s beginnings are closely intertwined with the E-Tron’s genesis, as are all the musicians who collaborated on this album. The music is simultaneously quiet and chaotic, patient and peculiar. It’s aptly described as post-apocalyptic but we could drop that prefix and it would still make sense.
The First Empire is a six-song concept album that seems to have more singles than not, starting off strong with the doom-laden “Fallen” and their most recent release “Enchanteresse”, which came out with a twisted music video pieced together by Mike Dubue.
My favourite track however, which I relish even more because of its brief length, is the wordless “Floating Underwater” which immerses us with a marimba. It transitions catastrophically yet pleasantly into “Deepest Night”, an anthem of darkness that uses Charbonneau’s baritone voice to its greatest ability. It ends with the sunken lyrics “at the strangest hour…” and crashes into the most unhinged and experimental of the songs, the title track. The album almost passes in the blink of an eye but it is complex, what obviously took years to perfect.
Excerpt from New Music: Scattered Clouds – The First Empire (By Joseph Mathieu – April 21, 2015)
One name in Ottawa’s hip hop community that stands out as one of the most hard-working is Yusso. Some of you may have heard of him just through collabs he’s done around town with some of the city’s best MC’s and producers, including the electrifying project CrooKid Bass with KING (now known by the name DRAE). Yusso’s new 6-track mixtape, dubbed Don’t Know Yusso, is a quick onslaught of tracks that clocks in at just over 15 minutes. Don’t Know Yusso is everything one could want out of a mixtape. It has a dash of funky tracks with irresistible rhythm like “Late Nights” and “To Whom It May Concern” that throw us back to Golden Era hip hop, impressive flow the whole way through, and lyrics that aren’t only intelligent, but also tell a story.
Excerpt from New Music: Yusso – Don’t Know Yusso (By Matías Muñoz – May 22, 2015)
On top of being a very strong singer and songwriter, Sturton has become well-known for her proficiency playing the harmonica. She derives her style straight from the Mississippi of old, cutting her chops at local blues establishments and learning from harmonica masters such as Larry “The Bird” Mootham and Carlos del Junco.
Bumble Bee explores the full spectrum of emotion, as Sturton delivers songs that hit hard and leave the listener feeling like they just experienced a performance in a run-down whiskey bar in the heart of the Delta. She opens the album with the truly badass songs “Mongoose Moan” and “Heavy Weather,” setting the tone for the entire record.
[…] There are moments where she breaks from the blues, such as “Tea for Two” and “Wheel of Fortune,” which offer a nice change of pace at those particular junctures. One of the other turning points is her harrowing cover of “Black is the Colour,” a traditional Appalachian folk song. Like a lot of the songs on the album, don’t be surprised if you experience goosebumps. What better way to finish off the album than by giving a little shout out to Ian Manhire and The White Wires in “Wheel of Fortune”?
Excerpt taken from New Music: Catriona Sturton – Bumble Bee (By Matías Muñoz – January 8, 2015)
It actually feels like it’s been years since their Steammates EP came out. However, it was only last September. Steamers‘ debut LP, Years, is a tight album, with a few flourishes that prudes would call “mistakes”. The combined efforts of the six teammates overlap like a sonic sandwich, particularly the mandolin of Francis-Julien Thibaudeau contrasting beautifully well with Greg Fitzpatrick’s banjo. The eight songs are great and call for foot stomping and as many sing along they could fit in. Whether you listen to the CD, hear them on stage or see them busking, be careful. Once you hear it you will play it again and again.
Excerpt taken from New Music: Years by Steamers(by Joseph Mathieu – May 27, 2015)
These long-time friends from Eastern Ontario have a few releases under their belt now and are really showing that they have found their sound, particularly on We’ll Always Have Milhouse. The album is a bit of a departure from 2014’s Fish – they’ve slowed things down a bit without losing any of the actual energy which makes their music so enthralling. Songs like “Friends”, “Yard Sale(s)”, and “Break” begin with a reverb-laden clean guitar intro, which eventually break out into the chaos we know and love. Lead singer Sheehan Jordan’s gravelly vocals fit just right, and are a little more intelligible to the listener than on Fish. This is a all-out fun record with moments of restraint balanced with just a little bit of chaos.
Excerpt taken from New Music: The Tenenbaums – We’ll Always Have Milhouse (By Matías Muñoz, October 29, 2015)
Ottawa’s Elementals released a doozie of a first album with I’m Not Here, I’m Not Real.
The new album has heavy grunge influences throughout the album that can teleport you back to 90s plaid-filled dimly lit clubs. Songs like “Debase” and “Messiah Complex” feature that great softer/louder/softer formula and it works very well. From soft signing to guttural yelling fading back into soft almost talking style lyrics. Something special went on during the 90s and these guys want everyone to relive a slice of it and never forget.
Excerpt taken from New Music: Elementals – I’m Not Here, I’m Not Real (By Eric Scharf, September 4, 2015)
I listened to the entirety of Tölt, the long-awaited debut LP by Ottawa’s Flying Hórses, approximately six times before finally understanding that I would hear a different narrative on each pass. First I walked through Gormenghast, then through Cirith Ungol, but also through large meadows that could have been Hyrule. The music called “post-chamber” by two of the city’s most interesting musicians have created a bestiary of dark and beautiful creatures, deadset on being released August 15.
Cellist and composer Raphael Weinroth-Browne is part of several prolific bands that play a range of neo folk, classical and experimental chamber music. He said that Tölt would surprise most people who were familiar with Jáde Bergeron’s original compositions that she’s often played live over the past few years. I have to concede he wasn’t just hyping me up–this isn’t the same trip to the “Dollhouse” or ride around the “Carousel” that we’ve heard before.
[…] There are sonatas for cello accompanied by Bergeron’s piano, and what sound like piano/celesta duets. Sometimes the pairing of cello to piano is replaced with bells or chimes that Bergeron plays in what she credits as “sacred places” in Montreal and Reykjavík.
Excerpt taken from New Music: Tölt Flying Hórses (By Joseph Mathieu – August 6, 2015)
Excerpt taken from New Music: Jeepz – Soul Spins (By Michael W. Smith – December 12, 2015)
The 10-track album is a huge step in a very different direction then what we have grown accustomed to with Page’s work with his bands. Volume Vs. Voice is a slowed-down, finger-picking-laden, emotionally-charged acoustic album — not exactly what many would expect from the punk rocker. The album is beautiful, a reflection of the scenery in which it was recorded.
“For a long time now,” said Page, “I’ve toyed with that cliched artist dream of isolating myself in a secluded cabin surrounded by bottles, pens, guitars, paper, Christmas lights doing summer duty. I could feel the river beach sand in my old Vans. I could hear the welcoming cricket chorus. There would be no Internet, TV or phone, though there would be a radio to keep some loose tabs on the outside world. There would be a recording device hooked up to a microphone or two.”
Excerpt taken from New Music: Volume vs. Voice by Chris Page (By Eric Scharf – April 22, 2015)
All of This and Everything Else is the much-anticipated release from Loon Choir, whose fans had been patiently waiting since the 2012 release of “Fire Poems”. The song “Always Golden” starts out with a monologue that may seem all too familiar to many: “To whom it may concern: please consider this my formal letter of resignation, for I have served day in and day out 40+ hours a week. The 9-to-5 just ain’t cuttin’ it any more. My life is more than a career, more than a wage…”. This is just one of the many examples of growth and maturity that is shining through in All of This and Everything Else.
At Ottawa Showbox, we weren’t the only ones to take notice of how awesome this album is. CBC mentioned Loon Choir in the artists you should have listened to in 2015 compilation. The song “Bug” also made it onto CBC Radio 3’s list of Top 103 Indie Songs of 2015.
– Eric Scharf