2018 was a year of ups and downs. There’s a lot to be upset about in the world these days, and for us, a small reprieve from the chaos that surrounds us is music. Ottawa’s music output this past year was nothing short of incredible. From poetic hip hop, to honest folk, all the way to explosive punk rock, our Top 18 Local Albums of 2018 list is packed full of some of this year’s best from Ottawa.
This list isn’t exhaustive, by any means. To be honest, this is what we think is our favourite music of 2018. There have been dozens upon dozens of albums released in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, and we encourage everyone to explore what’s out there beyond this list. But we hope you enjoy our picks, so have a read and listen below!
Most songs are available on our Top 18 Local Albums of 2018 Spotify playlist that you can stream and save (also available to stream below).
Echolette by Area Resident
Released on October 26, 2018 (Record Centre Records)
Area Resident, which is the brainchild of CBC journalist and beloved traffic guy Doug Hempstead, released his third album in so many years this October through Record Centre Records. Echolette is a collection of songs that are rooted in Hempstead’s real-life experiences, or (often ridiculous) stories that are based in the Ottawa Valley and Outaouais. […] There are subtle electronic elements to the song and Hempstead’s vocals are dipped in reverb, creating a soundscape immersing the listener in the story. Heavy over-driven guitar flourishes are scattered throughout, and the song stands out as something outside the box for us to take in. The song itself is named after a Star Trek episode, and is about a trip down the Creighton Mine in Sudbury to see the Neutrino Observatory. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Sober Dawn by Jonathan Becker and the North Fields
Released May 25, 2018
Ottawa’s Jonathan Becker & The North Fields released their debut full-length album Sober Dawn in 2018. The album builds on the success of the band’s previous EPs as well as their excellent live show which has graced many bars and pubs across Canada—and a few big festivals such as Ottawa’s Bluesfest and Cityfolk. The twelve-song release is soaked in roots and folk with country flares and a certain punk-rock ethos surely amassed by the various influences of the many members, some of which currently play or have played in several bands around town. Becker’s impactful songwriting and gruff vocal style is unavoidable in the best possible way. — Excerpt written by Eric Scharf
iii by DOXX
Released on March 19, 2018
DOXX released their third EP in as many years appily named iii. The anger and energy is certainly not diminishing or going anywhere, as the hardcore group keeps ripping. They are more of a throwback to the hardcore of yesteryear with slower driving drum beats, sludgy bass and distorted guitar leaving room for breakdowns and for the lead singer to take charge, and Sof does just that. The lyrics are charged, raw and to the point. The songs tackle such subjects as sleazy pick up artists and the destructive power of religion. And the whole thing is done in just over 7 minutes, so you can listen to it again and again.
The band is also something else to see live as Sof is quite the performer and entertainer on stage. And even if the sets are often short, there is never a dull moment during the onslaught of raw energy and passion. — Eric Scharf
EMAG by Buck n’ Nice
Released June 9, 2018
Hip hop is like any other genre in the music industry. There are some real artists that work hard and pay their dues to bring listeners and fans material that is impactful in one way or another. But there are a lot of people out there that find shortcuts, step on others in their community, and rip off material to get ahead, too. […] On EMAG, Buck n’ Nice aren’t saying “fuck the music industry” per se—they’re pointing out the problematic parts of it, the deception and fakers, the toxic people and money that drives a lot of the music made in it. To me, what goes part-in-parcel with these criticisms are the things that do matter in music—things like community, real life experiences, people’s everyday struggles, and most of all, valuing more than just money when making art. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Shed It by Casa Lagarto
January 19, 2018
Ottawa’s Casa Lagarto released a brand new EP called Shed It this year, a six-song trip that features thick grooves and atmospheric textures throughout. The band is comprised of well-established Ottawa musicians Jason Barkhouse (guitar/vocals), Arturo Portocarrero (drums/vocals), Travis Kinnear (bass/vocals), Jonny Yuma (guitar/vocals), and Grant McNeill (guitar), some of whom are members of The Yips (RIP), Lost to the River, and Fire Antlers. Shed It truly sounds like it was written in a shack in the desert. There’s a looseness to the whole thing that makes the album easy to sink into, slowly taking the listener deeper and deeper like quicksand. The album is rich with reverb and jangly guitar tones, deep and groovy bass lines, and Arturo’s lax and unobtrusive drum rhythms resonating throughout. Jonny’s hollow strumming and deep, simmering vocals bring another dimension to Shed It, though, completing the spooky yet captivating aesthetic of the band.
— Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Stall by Jon Creeden and the Flying Hellfish
Released on February 14, 2018 (Dead Broke Records)
For those of us familiar with Jon’s music, some of these songs will be very familiar. Whether he played them in a damp basement, in a church at Ottawa Explosion Weekend (RIP), or one of the many venues in town, Creeden has compiled 10 of his best songs written lately for Stall. Not only that, but the sheer intensity and vigour of these songs translate perfectly from the acoustic versions, and if there’s one guy in town that knows how to write a hell of a catchy punk rock song, it’s Jon Creeden. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
s/t by Sparklesaurus
Released on May 26, 2018 (Record Centre Records)
We were lucky enough to present Sparklesaurus’ album release party for their debut LP as part of our Showbox Concert Series last May, and let me tell you—it was a hell of a party. The first time I heard Sparklesaurus a few years back, I knew there was something special about this group. Not only are they close friends, but their chemistry as a band translates to flawless harmonies, goosebump-inducing instrumentation, and song structures that just won’t leave your brain…no matter how hard you try. Lead vocalist Felicity DeCarle is right up there with Keturah Johnson for best vocals in Ottawa. A modern-day Stevie Nicks, DeCarle seduces listeners and draws them in with every note bend, every whisper, and every vocal crescendo. Sprinkle On a Cake is the culmination of everything that gives Sparklesaurus their superpowers, and it shows. Whether it’s Brad’s subtle, yet integral drum parts, Colleen’s ripping bass lines, Shamisa’s spine-tingling backing vocals, or Felicity’s warming guitar jangles, this album is one that will find a warm spot in your heart to nest. — Matías Muñoz
GINNY EP by GINNY
Released on March 16, 2018
GINNY, somewhat of a supergroup in town, fronted by vocalist Lesley Marshall (Bonnie Doon), guitarist Catriona Sturton (ex-Plumbtree), and bassist Kristy Nease (Area Resident), add to the list of debut albums or EPs that really hit home in 2018. The band is quite a change from their members’ more typical sounds, as GINNY is full blown country and heartaches. The songs are about realizing something just ain’t right, needing to leave a situation and always having bad luck with men. True relatable country heartstring pullers. GINNY’s first single, “Choose the Wrong Man,” is a most excellent slow-building little alt-country number about constantly having bad luck in love. Marshall channels the ghost of country singers past as the band plays blues-tinged and rock-influenced country. — Eric Scharf
Beneath the Pines by The Creeps
Released on May 4, 2018 (It’s Alive Records)
Beneath the Pines is an 11-track offering, and it’s packed with goodies. The group has taken a new direction on this record, one they have never taken before. Traditionally The Creeps have written crunchy, uptempo, and in your face pop-punk that many of us have come to know and love. Skottie’s soaring melodies always rode the over-driven tones of his guitar, carried by Ian’s flurry of bass notes and Jordy’s percussive onslaught… But Beneath the Pines is a departure from what The Creeps have done before. The compositions are recognizably The Creeps, but the band experiments with different tempos, guitar tones, and a more open sound. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
EP3 by Saint Clare
Released on April 20, 2018
There are few bands in Ottawa that have as big of a sound and stage presence as Saint Clare does. With each release the band puts out, their music becomes more grandiose. The band released their third EP on April 20th, and it is arguably their most ambitious record to date. The seven-piece outfit does not shy away from taking risks on EP3. With bold and thunderous percussion from Daniel Devries leading the way—particularly in climactic, fuzzed-out tracks like “Burn Burn Burn”— Matthew Saint Clare and his band push it to the limit, without going overboard. These guys know how to put together a hell of an album, so crank up the volume and press play below. — Excerpt written by Eric Scharf
Through the Fog by Shadowhand
Released on March 10, 2018 (Record Centre Records)
We had been chomping at the bits to share Shadowhand‘s debut LP Through the Fog with the world, and it finally happened this year via Record Centre Records. Through the Fog is a nine-track effort, rolling through the peaceful lulls and buoyant peaks throughout. It is, more than anything, a warm album, and full of rich and robust tones. Their dreamy and unhurried approach gently takes us for a journey through the unknown. Jamieson’s soft, raspy voice melds seamlessly with the instrumentals, and fans of Destroyer and The War on Drugs will undoubtedly fall into his vocal style with ease. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Cardinal Giant by Jon Hynes
Released November 30, 2018 (Record Centre Records)
Cardinal Giant was a late-2018 release, but Jon Hynes is a gifted musician that knows how to tickle eardrums. His songwriting abilities are equally matched to his stage presence and musicianship as a performer. Hynes is no stranger to the world of music. He’s played on stage with heavyweights like Hey Rosetta!, The Hidden Cameras, Kathleen Edwards, Donovan Woods, Evening Hymns, and Jim Bryson, and is the brains behind the local music series called I Can’t Believe It’s Not.
Cardinal Giant is an appropriate follow-up to his award winning 2014 album Watchful Creatures—one, I might add, that made the top albums list that year as well. While he took his time releasing the new record, the end product is a ten-track feat that rocks the whole way through. Right off the bat, “Smooth Operator” explodes with just enough pop and crunch to make my day a good one. His voice is always relaxed, but not boring. His arrangements run through peaks and valleys of climactic energy, while he explores a myriad of styles and sounds all layered beautifully among one another throughout the album. This is one record that has a timeless quality to it, and the needle will drop on its grooves for years to come. — Matías Muñoz
Broken on the Wheel by Heavy Medicine Band
Released October 15, 2018 (Record Centre Records)
You could call The Heavy Medicine Band a dreamy psych-rock band, but that just wouldn’t encapsulate their essence. Broken On a Wheel is all at once frenetic, contemplative, angular, and simmering. To me, this is an album that bleeds its tones. The visceral feelings experienced while sitting through a full listen of Broken On a Wheel are not easily shaken away. For my money, Keturah Johnson has the most powerful and distinct voices in Ottawa. She implements her vocals without mercy, like a separate instrument that drives the feel of the entire album. The band itself is a force—a tidal wave of sounds, effects, and intricate arrangements. This band comes from another planet, so soak in their music here on earth while you can. — Matías Muñoz
The Silence Came After by Claude Munson
Released on May 18, 2018 (Record Centre Records)
There are few musicians in Ottawa that can capture and transmit their emotions with as much candor and brutal honesty as Claude Munson. The Silence Came After is an album that embraces the listener like a warm, comforting bath. The album itself is the product of years of work, and years of meticulous songwriting. You wouldn’t recognize Claude as a perfectionist at first look. In fact, you’d probably paint him as a Bohemian wanderer of sorts. But he refused to release this record until it sat comfortably with him, and the writing, arranging, and recording processes all took longer than expected. But the wait was worth it. The album finally came together in 2018, and explores themes such as the search for truth, introspection, escapism, to name a few. For me, The Silence Came After achieves greatness. It finds an intersection of art-folk that is somewhere between The War on Drugs and Paul Simon, and Munson wears his heart on his sleeve. This album is rich, lush with various layers to explore upon each listen. — Matías Muñoz
Amateur by Isaac Valentin
Released on June 4, 2018 (Record Centre Records)
There are few musicians in my life who merge art and music as well as Isaac Vallentin does. The former Pony Girl member ventured out on his own a few years back, and his debut Hedera was an experiment in electronic-folk that exceeded expectations. This time, Vallentin takes a more traditional approach on Amateur. His rich baritone voice is a distinctive feature of Amateur, and it blends perfectly with the open and soft feel of the instrumentals throughout the record. There’s a Nick Drake-like gentleness that is felt when listening, particularly on songs like “Loudest in the Universe” and “Arafel/Getting Sober.” While Hedera was noticeable more minimalist in its sound and approach, Vallentin continues to show restraint in his compositions. Amateur is an incredible achievement of balance and composition, and should be lauded as such. —
Cotton Candy Jet Engine by Expanda Fuzz
Released on October 22, 2018
Local lo-fi drone-garage rock duo dropped their first full length album in 2018 and Cotton Candy Jet Engine is everything we could have wanted and more from them. Fuzzy, distorted and yet very accessible, the album has great slow driving tracks filled with vocals which complement each other so well. My favourite songs include their great lead single, “Ghost and Flowers,” for which they made a pretty fun video, and the track “At War With Summer” where the drum machine and the perfectly distorted riffs work to perfection.
Beyond the music, the album cover and record itself (limited edition pink vinyl) is an absolute work of art and is to be commended. It is one of the very important elements that streaming and non-physical music just can’t compete with. — Eric Scharf
The Written Word by G.Grand
Released on August 3, 2018
The Written Word is the latest release from dynamic hip-hop duo G.Grand and Jeepz. It is a match made in heaven that brings together Ottawa’s most prolific beat maker, Jeepz, and G. Grand delivering a mix of hyper personal reflections and stellar clever wordplay. The Written Word also features slick collaborations with such local greats as DJ So Nice, Cheko Salaam (member of Tapas with G.Grand), Khaleefa Apollo the Child (half of hip hop duo Poetic Elements) just to name a few.
The album launches with straight fire from the beginning as they waste no time taking over the game with “Stockton and Malone.” Painting the comparison of G.Grand and Jeepz to one of the best duos in the history of the NBA John Stockton (the ultimate passer) and Karl Malone (two-time NBA MVP and second all time in points). As The Written Word progresses you can certainly see that this combination is nothing short of a lyrical and beats highlight reel. And they aren’t just powering through lane and slam dunking in your face. They vary their pace, tone, style and subjects covering everything from family history, racism, partying and vulnerabilities, to calling out weak rappers and putting them all in their place with intellect and class. — Eric Scharf
Tired of Waiting by Jim Bryson
Released on September 14, 2018 (COAX/Headless Owl)
This list wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of Ottawa-area indie music veteran Jim Bryson’s EP Tired of Waiting. Bryson has had a long career in music, not only as a singer-songwriter, but also as a producer. His home studio (Fixed Hinge) is bustling with action, and somehow he found time to record the 6-track EP in there somewhere. He spent 3 days with Jonas Bonetta of Evening Hymns at Fixed Hinge recording the EP, which also includes instrumental additions from the Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara, as well as Scattered Cloud’s Philippe Charbonneau and Jamie Kronik. Topics range from hangovers to meeting deceased authors, Bryson has a special way of boiling stories down and making them relatable. Tired of Waiting is a testament to the fact that Bryson still has what it takes after all these years.
Bad Mantras by Boyhood
Released on June 22, 2018
And while we’ve already reached our 18 of 2018, we feel obliged to include Boyhood’s Bad Mantras on this list as a honourable mention. Not because it isn’t as good of an album, because it’s an incredible album. Technically Caylie doesn’t live in Ottawa anymore, so it’s not an Ottawa album. But she still is in our hearts as an incredible musician who has made a real impact on this city. So honourable Ottawan, honourable mention.