Luke Williams looks back on some of the best studio sessions throughout the year. Studio sessions are great ways to find new musicians or to hear new tracks from artists you already know about. They are also a great way to measure just how good a studio track is when played live. There are an endless number of sources across the web for great studio sessions but in order to compile this list, Luke picked the five of the most trusted sources for great studio sessions:

  1. KEXP: KEXP is radio done differently, established in Seattle in 1972 they’ve been a home for Indie an Alternative music that you wont hear on any other station on the dial. Equipped with a brand new state-of-the-art studio, these guys and girls are pumping out daily studio sessions with some of the hottest indie musicians as well as musicians you’ve never even heard of.
  2. Audiotree: A Chicago based collective of audio engineers, producers, business managers, promoters, videographers and music junkies. Audiotree exists for the greater good of music. Aside from their fantastic series of sessions, they offer musicians production, filming and promotional services. Audiotree also sells recorded versions of their sessions with artists and splits the profit 50/50.
  3. Southern Souls: You can call Southern Souls the “New Kid on the Block” eh? Established in Hamilton, Ontario in 2009, they aim to show off the best musical talent that Southern Ontario has to offer through their sessions series that captures the artists in their own habitat, a unique place of their own choosing.
  4. National Public Radio’s (NPR) Tiny Desk Concerts: Tiny Desk Concerts started out as an office joke at the NPR. In 2008 Bob Boilen, director of the station’s popular news program All Things Considered, and Stephen Thompson from NPR Music traveled to Austin, Texas together in order to attend South By Southwest. Boilen was upset because he could not hear Laura Gibson perform over a particularly noisy crowd. Thompson later convinced Gibson to do a performance from behind Boilen’s desk as a joke. It would in turn inspire a series of live session recorded from the tiny desk for Boilen’s show jokingly titled All Songs Considered. You can almost always trust these sessions to be some of the best sounding you will find.
  5. Collective Arts Black Box Sessions in Partnership with Indie 88: Presented by a Hamilton, Ontario microbrewery in partnership with Toronto’s indie music radio station, this series often focuses on live sessions with artists you are likely to find all across the radio like Hoiser, Chvrches and Of Monsters and Men. However, every now and then they have a completely unexpected and refreshing artist stop by the tiny room.

The Sessions:

10) The Elwins, “ So Down Low” Audiotree Live Sessions:

This song from young Keswick, Ontario natives became an Indie anthem in 2015. It was on the Indie and college radio stations almost non-stop and pumping out of the speakers at bars and nightclubs across the county. This live rendition stands to show how produced the studio version was but also shows off a fairly stellar low-line from bassist Frankie Figliomeni and an admirable amount of passion from vocalist Mathew Sweeny.


9) Summer Cannibals, “Show Us Your Mind” KEXP Live Sessions:

Short but definitely not sweet! This fantastic live performance from a band just beginning to bloom is fertilized with a healthy dose of garage punk rock. The rhythm is pounded out with metallic drums and thick bass notes while the guitar is fast and muddy. Vocalist Jessica Boudreaux, struggles to keep her saucy growls going and is forced to miss a note in order to catch her breath but this isn’t pre-produced pop, this is gritty garage rock!


8) Daniel Lanois, “Full Concert,” NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concerts:

Having put in his time collaborating with Brian Eno and producing the Joshua Tree for U2, Lanois has become a legend over the decades. He is a master of the synthesizer who is able to turn the nobs and create some of the most angelic techno you’ve ever heard. The real star of this live performance, however, is respected jazz drummer Brian Blade, who is an absolute delight to watch slay a tiny drum set next to a tiny desk in the corner of a tiny room.


7) Shakey Graves, “Full Concert,” NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concerts:

Fans of the wildly successful football drama Friday Night Lights remember Alejandro Rose-Garcia thanks to his appearance in the show’s second season as the Swede, the much older, pot smoking and metaphysical love interest of Julie. To music fans he has long been known as Shakey Graves. The Austin, Texas musician has become well respected for his sound that fuses blues and southern rock into a sound that is metaphorically larger than his home state. He is often known for being a one man band; playing guitar while also using an ingeniously designed suitcase drum. In this NPR performance, a full band follows his lead for much of the session, and ends up with a pretty solid jam session from behind the tiny desk.


6) Yes We Mystic, “The Contest Of Strength,” Southern Souls:

The background of this session could pass as a college dorm room or a starter apartment and is totally fitting of a young band in their natural habitat. There is a lot happening in this session and it all comes together to make a fantastic live experience.


5) Portugal. The Man, “Evil Friends + Creep In a T-Shirt,” Collective Arts Black Box Sessions:

Fans of this Alaska-based band have been waiting patiently since 2013 for a new album. 2015 only saw the announcement that a new album produced by Mike D of Beastie Boys fame is on the way. However, the band did do some amazing studio sessions over the past year and at the top of those performances is the one from inside the black box at Indie 88 in Toronto. Noah Gersh’s vocals are almost identical to their album counterparts especially in the later of the two songs and the reference to Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia was worth a laugh.  


4) Death Cab For Cutie, “ Black Sun + No Room in Frame,” Collective Arts Black Box Sessions:

When you’ve been around as long as 1997 it is hard to consistently stay at the top of your game. With that being said, it can be argued that 2015 saw Bellingham Washington’s Death Cab For Cutie at the top of their game. The Band released Kintsugi, their 8th studio album and first without founding member Chris Walla in the rotation. Walla did help to produce the album though. 2015 also saw the band do an extensive amount of touring including a sold out North by Northeast headlining show at Toronto’s Sony Center for the Performing Arts back in May. The Black Box session stripped a couple of the favorites from the new album down to piano and the strong vocal abilities of Ben Gibbard, who absolutely kills it on “ No Room in Frame”, a song about how fame seemingly ruined his short marriage to bubbly television star Zooey Deschanel.


3) Geographer, “You Say You Love Me,” Audiotree Live Sessions:

Geographer is the stage name of San Francisco soloist Michael Deni, who has constructed quite a live band to help him perform his soulful space synth pop on the road and in live studio sessions. What appears in this Audiotree session is an out of this world jam session showing off an impressive electric Cello, strong vocal performance, steady drumming and droning synthesizer that makes for an atmospheric high of enjoyment.


2) Caspian, “Arcs of Command,” KEXP Live Sessions:

In 2015 this Beverly, Massachusetts band, who is well respected for their contributions to the post-punk genre explored a darker sound on their 5th album Dust and Disquiet, which was released back in September. If anyone could display this newer and darker sound off properly, KEXP would be the one to do it and they did not fail. This live session shows off that new sound in extreme detail and captures every second of the aggression and energy the band pours into their music.


1) Arkells, “ Systematic,” Southern Souls:

2014 is without a doubt the year that Hamilton, Ontario’s prodigal sons the Arkells perfected their craft. High Noon not only shattered downloads and streams but it sold high quantities of physical copies. The Band did a huge tour in support of the album and sold out several of those dates including three nights in Toronto. 2015 only served to continue the hype the band built up the previous year as they swept the JUNOS in their hometown and appeared in nearly every major outdoor festival happening across the country. Music is not just an art form or a hobby for these sons of Steeltown. It is a life force and nowhere is that more evident than in this live session they did for fellow Hamilton natives Southern Souls. Just look at the passion that Max Kerman puts into his vocal performance. It is just so easy to see why these guys have had success come their way.

Luke Williams grew up a fan of punk and pop punk in a field of cows just outside of Barrie, Ontario. You can follow him on Twitter @musicwithluke