Our favourite songs of December come courtesy of Roam, Alex Porat and Puffy L'z. Plus: a Drake Underground live series
HMLT & KEI-LI live at the Drake Underground
This was one of the most unique years we’ve ever lived through. To be honest, it was also one of the worst. But there was still plenty of great Toronto music, and even after our best local albums of the year and all the bonus tracks we threw in at the end, there’s still plenty more where that came from.
Listen below for some great new Toronto music from December 2020 and start the new year on a slightly less depressing note.
Toronto’s newest indie pop princess released an acoustic version of her EP Bad At Breakups this month. It strips back the boppy, made-for-Tik Tok production and, as acoustic versions usually do, lets her crystal clear voice shine. With just piano and guitar, tracks like Forgot To Forgive get weightier renditions, emphasizing the 20-something malaise and melancholy in her songs.
Boy Wonder’s twangy and peculiar voice is so fun. His cover of Tom Petty is eclectic and bouncy and breathes a potent energy into the track. The lyrics “I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings” are a lesson we all need to internalize after this unpredictable year. The track is part of Happy Hollowdaze 2020, a compilation from Hollowfest in support of Encampment Support Network released on Christmas.
The second track from the Toronto singer’s recent release THE SKIES, THEY’RE BLUER THAN ME slowly unfolds itself to the listener. Merna has been affiliated with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest and Doc McKinney in the past, but her latest release is entirely self-produced and written, with a bit of help from Matthew Progress on vocals. SKIN starts trepidatious as a tremor and builds into a soulful and experimental landscape, mixing distorted samples, airy vocals, bird chirping and delicate piano.
River Tiber has beed dropping golden gems here and there since his last full length release, focusing more on production and collaboration for his friends like Charlotte Day Wilson and Daniel Caesar. Hypnotized, dropped in the final hours of 2020, is one of his finest songs yet. Sultry, slick and emotive with his signature wafting vocals, it pulls you in deep.
It would be easy to while away the end of the year in your living room (again) and carry forward a feeling of malaise into 2021. But why not approach the New Year with a bit of positivity? Local British-influenced electronic producer Roam sent us this track, a follow-up loosie after his 2020 album The Wreath, meant to bring a bright-side attitude into the new year. It’s both propulsive and reflective in all the right measures.
“How To Let Go is ultimately a song about the optimism and hope you feel when you think of trying to make things work with someone in a relationship,” he says. “I made it with the hope that those feelings would come through in the production and rub off on the listener so that they can let go of the negativity 2020 has brought us in order to be optimistic about what 2021 can bring.”
SAFE’s tiding us over with this quick freestyle about love and life in the ends. It’s a song about getting over a person who is maybe not right for you and the Toronto singer, rapper and songwriter’s gentle delivery floats over parsed-down production. He’s a member of the ever-prolific Halal Gang repping Regent Park, including the late Smoke Dawg, Puffy L’z and recent NOW cover star Mustafa, who has more music coming out in the new year.
The quiet days between Christmas and New Year’s are usually the time when the Drake fills its Underground stage with local DJs and artists-to-watch at the annual What’s In The Box? festival. That went virtual this year with a YouTube series called Unmasked featuring live performances and interviews. If you miss scoping out local artists on live stages as much as we do, it really scratches the itch.
There are five episodes to dig into full of great artists you might not know yet, but we’ll give you this episode featuring rapper DijahSB (whose 2020 The Album was, fittingly, in our best of Toronto 2020 albums list), singer/songwriter Nefe and smooth soul team-up HMLT & KEI-LI (featuring keytar!).