Written by Holly Gordon and Tahiat Mahboob
Halifax’s music scene has so much talent and heart that narrowing any list down to 10 seems downright cruel. Local alt-weekly The Coast just published its New Music issue, and there were 101 new bands created in the last year alone. That’s not nothing.
While Halifax doesn’t have a Drake to shout about its views from the CN Tower, it does have a hell of a lot of good music coming out of its neighbourhoods. Some artists on this list are just finding their feet onstage, creating — or recreating — their sound; others are ready to go big. So from hip-hop to R&B to pop to folk, we’ve gathered 10 reasons to see live music in Halifax — and you can start by listening to that music below.
Disclosure: Johns' suggestions were strictly for hip-hop and electronic; her slippergaze band Not You is on here because we've been following it since its beginnings.
Lance Sampson started recording rap songs when he was 15 under the MC name Lex. But a lot changed for him four years later. “When I was 19, I ended getting a five-year prison sentence for some things I’m not too proud of, but it made me who I am today,” explained Samson via email. “It was while I was incarcerated I learned how to play guitar, and that’s when I transitioned from hardcore street rap to a more soulful, acoustic music.”
Now self-describing his music as “aquavibe,” Sampson, a.k.a. Aquakultre, has a smooth R&B energy that will have you burning through his Soundcloud singles. Water Temple, Sampson’s March 2017 EP, is almost all slower jams — with songs like “I Gotchu” and “Safe” ramping up the heat factor — and folds in more acoustic arrangement, making for a beat-driven, guitar-steered listen. His newest single, “Sore,” was released this month and builds on that EP, and you can catch him playing Evolve and Sappyfest this summer.
— Holly Gordon (@hollygowritely)
Editor's note: strong language warning.
Don’t let Hillsburn’s 2016 Canadian Folk Music Award for new/emerging artist of the year trick you into thinking it’s a folk band. After two albums as a string quartet, the 2015 Searchlight semifinalist added a drummer to the mix and is emerging with a new sound on an untitled album later this year. “It’s many, many times bigger. We’ve really moved away from being a folk band,” says member Rosanna Burrill. “This album is going to be epic and I’m really excited for people to hear it.”
The sound isn’t the only new thing about this 12-track album. Looking to acts like Bon Iver and Arcade Fire, Hillsburn opted out of a formal studio setting and is producing the album collectively. That means more time to focus on the mixes, greater creativity and ownership of the final product. Even though the album name and release date haven’t been finalized, the tour dates are set. Hillsburn will be performing on the East Coast in June, on the West Coast in July and finish up back out East in August.
— Tahiat Mahboob (@TahiatMahboob)
Natalie Lynn has been making music for years — she self-released two EPs and a full-length in her teens — but for the last little while you'll have only been able to find one single, "Runaway," online. It's because she has spent the past while finding her sound — and on this preview of her new single, "Company," it sounds like she's found what she wants.
"I want to be honest in my writing and communicate the things that I want to communicate — which was happening lyrically — but stylistically felt confusing at times," Natalie Lynn writes via email, of her previous work. "Working with a producer that I can trust and who is supportive of the art and the artist behind it, has been a game changer in this. John [Mullane] has really helped me to explore these things and we’re uncovering more key elements to defining this style every step of the way."
Her new track's '90s vibe plays through without leaning too hard on nostalgia, and it's confident and brisk, slowing and speeding at intervals that perfectly pace her standout vocals. Now, Natalie Lynn is leaning on influences like Haim or the 1975, Death Cab for Cutie or White Lies. So far the only teaser for this new music is below, but keep an eye out for a 2018 release. — HG
The band that self-describes its music as “lazy pop” is getting a lot of online love lately. A (seemingly) random person uploaded Strongboy’s single “Steady” to YouTube two months ago, and today it has more than 260,000 views. Then, earlier this month, Spotify added the same song to its Fresh Finds playlist and the band’s Spotify followers jumped from 5,000 to 28,000. So it looks like lazy pop is doing the work. The four bandmates from Cape Breton released a two-track EP early last year, and have an eight-track full-length coming out June 30. If you’re a Mac DeMarco fan, Strongboy’s your jam — but even if you’re not, there’s something in the band’s breezy poppiness that’ll hook into your summer vibe. — HG
An intimate setting. Five different woodwind instruments. The interplay of five distinct sounds. That’s what woodwind quintet Fifth Wind is all about. After individual careers in classical music, Jack Chen (flute), Suzanne Lemieux (oboe), Eileen Walsh (clarinet), Ivor Rothwell (bassoon) and Mary Lee (horn) have joined forces to create an ensemble on the principle that music should be fun to listen to as well as to play. And they’ve certainly nailed the fun part down with their whimsical sound. "It's really rewarding to watch someone discover our repertoire and our passion for what we do," says Walsh.
Since banding together in 2010, Fifth Wind has collaborated with Canadian composers to premiere new works written for the ensemble. With a New Chapters grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, Fifth Wind has commissioned five new compositions. “We will be spending a majority of this next year working with composers and refining the new pieces,” says Chen. These five new pieces will be performed in Vancouver, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax come September 2018. — TM
Devarrow could arguably be considered as coming from a few places, but as Graham Ereaux currently resides in Halifax, so too does his moniker. Having grown up in Moncton, Ereaux spent some time on the West Coast, where he released his 2015 debut album, Great Escape. It’s rife with handclap-ability and call-response lyricism — “Dig me, dig me, dig me a grave/ and I’ll sing you, sing you, sing you a song” on the title track — that is impossibly catchy. Like a one-man Fleet Foxes, but amped right up.
Last week, Devarrow won the competition for Casino Nova Scotia's 2017 artist in residence against fellow artists Jessie Brown, T. Thomason, Floodland and Villages — which comes with a $20,000 prize. Technically a new Devarrow EP has already been released in Europe, where Ereaux just finished touring, with a North American release slated for the fall. Look for a full-length in 2018. — HG
Chudi Harris's synth-based R&B is smooth as glass and the perfect antidote to any overdose on the Toronto sound. The multi-instrumentalist writes and produces all his own material but performs with a band, which is when you'll see him onstage with Michael Cann (guitar), Angel Marcus Panag (DJ) and Nathaniel Cole (drums). "I've been writing and recording with them for years, we're like brothers, so naturally they're a big part of everything," he writes via email. Harris just finished working on his third EP — the first, Canvas, came out last summer, and the second, Absolution, dropped earlier this year — and "finally did a track with the bro Aquakultre, so [am] real pumped."
It'll be hard to catch him live for the foreseeable future as he and a few of his bandmates are in Toronto for the summer — "I'm taking a few music business courses because I figured if nobody is going to sign me I should at least know why and how to change their mind" — but Harris says he's starting to write what feels like his first full-length, so we'll have that to look forward to. — HG
Editor's note: strong language warning.
We previously wrote about this four-piece in our list of “11 best new bands of 2016,” but this list, too, would be amiss without Not You. Nancy Urich (Dog Day, the Burdocks), Stephanie Johns (the Stolen Minks, Moon), Rebecca Young (Soaking up Jagged, Pastoralia) and Meg Yoshida (Bad Vibrations) make slippergaze — not shoegaze — and their debut EP, Misty, is all darkness and light, haze and distortion, kiss-offs and dreamy subversion. — HG.
Opening for Anderson .Paak and deadmau5 in the same month is one way to get your name out there, and it’s exactly what North Preston’s Reeny Smith will do this summer: she’s opening for the former at Halifax Jazz Fest on July 15, and is on a longer bill for the latter at the big Canada Day 150 concert in Halifax. “It's a blessing to have the chance to share the stage with [Anderson .Paak],” Smith writes via email. “He's one of [my] favourite artists so that makes it extra special.”
Smith’s gospel-inspired R&B will be a perfect fit. The 24-year-old has been playing music since she was five, and grew up singing in three choirs at Saint Thomas Baptist Church. Just in the last handful of years, Smith has won awards for both up-and-coming artist (2011) and artist of the year (2015 and 2016) at the African Nova Scotia Music Association Awards — and she doesn’t have a full-length album yet. Smith’s been working on her second EP, due out late 2017, for two years. She says many of the songs were written and produced in Toronto with Ari Rhodes and Adam Royce, with some produced in Nashville and Cleveland with Javert Haynes. Corey Lerue, of Halifax’s Neon Dreams, also wrote and produced two songs on it with Smith. “I'm super excited for everyone to hear it,” she writes. — HG
This four-piece has been building momentum for years, but the hazy throwback band only released its debut full-length on June 9. “Walrus more or less started from these demo songs I was recording four or five years ago,” vocalist/guitarist Justin Murphy told us earlier this month. “I had these poorly recorded bedroom songs that I took to my brother and he added electronic drums to it and it really sounded quite different than it does now.”
Two EPs and half a decade later, 2017’s Family Hangover sees Walrus poised for take off: produced by Charles Austin (the Super Friendz) and released on Dan Mangan’s Madic Records, its 10 tracks have the maturity and support to go the distance. — HG
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