July Talk’s 2013 self-titled debut album crackles with energy and seethes with sexuality, largely fuelled by the tension between band leaders Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay. Since then, in addition to a vigorous touring schedule, the band has released For Your Bloodshot Eyes, an EP containing three additional songs not included on the original Canadian version of July Talk.
The EP kicks off with the bluesy-rock “Gentleman,” which sets a slower pace, simmering with lines like “we’re so easy to love when we’re down on our knees.” However, “Blood + Honey” and “Uninvited” offer the riffs and catchy hooks that fans of the band have come to expect, with “Blood + Honey” standing out as the most powerful addition to the band’s repertoire.
For Your Bloodshot Eyes serves two purposes: to continue to showcase the band’s exceptional talent, and to reaffirm that they are on the cusp of absolutely exploding in popularity. It is a must-hear.
– Alyson Shane (Twitter @alysonshane)
Superstition, The Birthday Massacre’s sixth and most recent studio album, showcases the band’s talent in a range of music presented in tracks ranging from industrialized dance to gothy, electronic, atmospheric, and guitar-laden tunes.
The album was enjoyable in its entirety. Not meaning to slight the musical crew in any way (Falcore and Rainbow on guitars, Owen on synths, Nate on bass, and Rhim on drums), but Chibi’s vocals are definitely the strongest asset here. The weakest link would be the dark, creepy vocals that come in about three-quarters of the way through “Divide” and then again in “Destroyer.” They’re just a little too dark, but perhaps those who tend more toward the Gothic scene would really think they add something.
The Canadian (currently located in Toronto, started in London, Ontario in 1999) six-piece released Superstition on Metropolis Records last month (November) on CD as well as a limited edition vinyl in conjunction with a tour.
“Divide” begins the album in its industrial, yet dancey style. The instruments complement one another and the track flows well. The slower, slightly darker sound of “Diaries” continues the dancey feel and adds a gothy element. Carrying on through the album, it should be noted that the heavy guitar sound on many tracks saves The Birthday Massacre from falling into the category of electronica. Track six, “Oceania,” is a bit reminiscent of early Depeche Mode, later moving to up-tempo “Beyond” with its atmospheric keyboards.
Overall, the listening experience was appreciated and I’d recommend the album to The Birthday Massacre fans new and old as well as those who’ve never listened to them before.
– Kathy Nichols
No one likes to badmouth people when they argue, break up, and get back together – but Reagan Jones’ and Andrew Sega’s reconnection and subsequent collaboration on the album Radiant produces a largely forgettable collection of electronic pop songs save for some promising pieces such as “Sound Becomes Waves.”
Iris began as a Texas duo consisting of Reagan Jones and Matt Morris and in 2000, and was declared “best band” and “best album “ at the American Synthpop Awards. The current combination of Jones and Sega produced three albums, the last being titled Blacklight in 2010. An argument after their supporting tour of Blacklight led to the band members not speaking to each other for a year. Perhaps the time apart has mellowed Sega and Jones. Whereas Blacklight had an edgier, gritty feel, much of Radiant seems docile and resigned – as if they were thinking, “Let’s play nice together and not rock the boat.” The first half of the album features songs that blend too similarly with each other. However, the second half picks up the pace with stronger tracks such as “Rewired” and “Sight Unseen.” Everyone needs time to work out issues between each other, and Radiant may prove Jones and Sega are on the right path.
– Patrick Li
A Strange Play is a double-disc set containing 31 (33 if you get the Bandcamp version) covers of The Cure songs by almost as many electro, industrial, goth, and EBM artists. The tribute album was released this month on Belgium’s Alfa Matrix label. Focusing on the Disintegration album (seven songs from this one) and earlier, these artists pay homage by giving their unique takes on the music that The Cure is known so well for.
All the songs respect their parent versions in that they stray, but not to the point of being unrecognizable. About a third of the tracks are performed by female-fronted projects, which really adds a new perspective. Most had an added industrial edge, some heavier than others.
The track listing favours early and mid-era The Cure. The bands later, poppier sound was represented in the likes of “Just Like Heaven,” “Friday I’m in Love,” and a few others, but they were heavily outnumbered by the likes of “Charlotte Sometimes,” “La Ment,” “All Cats are Grey,” and similar tracks which put The Cure in the dictionary under “melancholy.”
Reportedly, these recordings were all done in the space of about a year by numerous Alfa Matrix bands who wanted to pay tribute to The Cure’s dark legend. Belgium’s Metroland did their take on “Close To Me,” switching the opening verse to spoken lines, each delivered by a different person with what sounded like very heavy English accents. Norwegian duo Kant Kino contributed two tracks, “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” (which was very synth-heavy à la early-‘80s Devo), and “Charlotte Sometimes” (this version was very sped up which destroyed a lot of the song’s mystical quality, but it was an interesting take on it). Lyrics, based on a book by Penelope Farmer, were performed by Mari Kattman, formerly of synthpop and EBM duo Day Twelve. German duo Mari Chrome’s version of “A Forest” was similar – the original sentimental sound was altered based on the increased speed of the electronic music. Italian/British two-piece Alien Vampires took on Seventeen Seconds’ “In Your House,” maintaining the same rhythm as the original but adding a lot of distortion to make the song their own. Two bands took on “Burn,” the song written in 1994 for The Crow’s soundtrack. Norwegian electro-rockers Essence of Mind took things up a notch and made the song a bit lighter and more sing-songy, while Italy’s Helalyn Flowers laid on the synthesizer sound. “A Night Like This” from 1985’s Head on the Door, performed by XMH, presented with highly altered vocals, which led to the loss of Robert Smith’s vocal inflection but not the quality of the song. “La Ment” was turned into something resembling a synth-powered pop ballad by Spanish electro-pop act Mondträume. They sped the song up considerably and their interpretation is reminiscent of the backing track to a video game. Another one that seems like it should be in the video game arcade was the same album’s “The Baby Screams,” by Armageddon Dildos vs. Bezirk02. Belgian’s Star Industry added a strong industrial beat and electronic alteration to the vocals on 1983 single (later released on Japanese Whispers) “The Walk.”
Overall, the album is enjoyable. It is available at the label’s website: www.alfa-matrix.com or http://alfamatrix.bandcamp.com/album/a-strange-play-an-alfa-matrix-tribute-to-the-cure (Bandcamp version).
– Kathy Nichols
With The Signal, pianist and singer/songwriter Elizabeth Shepherd creates contemporary jazz that is high on both rhythmic sensibilities and lyrical content.
She has a knack of making odd-time signatures groovy, toe tapping and head bopping (i.e. the 7/4 application of the opening tunes “Willow” and “What’s Happening”) while singing about deep topics ranging from motherhood (Baby Steps), faith (“Lion’s Den”; “I Gave”) and big business (“B.T. Cotton”).
A real strength that Shepherd has over other jazz vocalists that I have heard is that she is a unique storyteller with something creative to offer and give on the music scene in Canada and beyond. She takes the experiences that she draws from her many travels and encounters and envelopes them into a style that is uniquely her own.
Upon listening to “The Signal,” her fifth recording, Shepherd has matured into a real 21st century jazz singer/songwriter who really has a lot going for her in life and in music. The grooves are tighter, the lyrics are thought-provoking, and the musical support from her musicians ranging from steel pan, trumpet, standard upright bass, sampling, percussion and backing vocals are top notch. Shepherd is an artist who has a fine ability to create grooves and pieces that make you want to dance while at the same time the lyrics make you want to think and question the world around you.
Another strong effort from a chanteuse who keeps challenging and striving for new and creative heights.
– Conrad Gayle
With Bonobo’s latest release Flashlight EP, we are once again graced by the subtle groovy sounds that seem to be designed to alter your state of mind and get your feet moving. Scott Green, AKA Bonobo, is one of Ninja Tune’s most celebrated alumni and has been the leader of many chillwave and ambient electronica journeys since his humble beginnings back in the late 90s. Although this EP is only three songs long, it is one of Bonobo’s strongest releases in years. The opening track “Flashlight” is loaded with hooky grooves and samples that will have you cranking your high-end stereo and putting the tracks on repeat immediately. The second cut, “Return to Air,” is a throwback to mid-90s ambient electronica with strong similarities to bands like The Orb and Autechre. This tune is DEEP with a house-like beat and wicked-ass samples. The guitar tracks are layered perfectly with the synth bass line and other ear candy samples making it irresistible. The final track, “Pelican,” is another spine tickler that will get you moving. Its crushing grooves will put a tear in your speakers and will be a nice surprise transition at your next party. As per the high bar expectation that comes with any Ninja Tune release, especially with Bonobo, you can rest assured that Flashlight EP is a first-rate teaser for what presumably will be a wonderful new full-length album to be announced in the near future.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Thirty years ago, in August of 1984, jazz guitar legend Lenny Breau was found dead - apparently murdered. The mystery remains unsolved. Two months earlier, executive producer Randy Bachman and the crew of Guitar Archives released a never-before-heard live album recorded by the legendary guitarist at the peak of his talent.
LA Bootleg 1984 is a collection of tried and tested standards such as “Stella By Starlight,” “There Will Never Be Another You,” and “If You Could See Me Now,” performed in a trio setting that brings elements of swing, introspection, reflection and happiness. These dynamics seem to be signs of Breau being just on the brink of a new creative high, and there are no indications of him slowing down.
These performances haven’t been released and can be seen as somewhat of a revelation for Lenny Breau fans and devotees who want to bring some closure to his short career.
Upon listening to this newly-released recording, it is astonishing that Breau blended various genres and prodigious technique to create a style that is uniquely his own. Here we get to see him interact with a fuller jazz unit that supports him in his explorations while he swings and burns on faster tempos such as “Four” and “There Will Never Be Another You,” and reflects and plays with sensitivity on ballads such as “When I Fall In Love” and “If You Could See Me Now.”
One of the highlighted tracks in this set is an obscure piece composed by Don Thompson called “Days Gone By.” Lenny treats this piece so well that it deserves to become a contemporary standard, bringing heartfelt emotion and harmonic sensibilities into the piece.
LA Bootleg 1984 is a welcome addition for guitar aficionados and fans of Lenny Breau to honour and pay respect to a major talent gone way too soon.
– Conrad Gayle
No matter how many times you listen to “After The Storm,” you’ll still get goosebumps and have to stop everything you’re doing. The fourth song on Swimmin’ Time, the latest release from the Charleston, SC duo Shovels & Rope showcases the strong writing, powerful vocals and amazing harmonies that Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have become known for.
This thirteen-song collection of new tunes from the husband-and-wife duo, who won the 2013 Americana Music Awards for Song of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year, is by far one of the best albums of this year.
If you’re not already a fan of the Hearst and Trent pairing, you’ll be hooked after hearing this album.
I saw Shovels & Rope live three years ago and I still consider it the best show I’ve seen. Hearst and Trent give everything they’ve got in a live show that’s full of passion, energy, spirit, love, and a bit of reckless abandon. Their studio albums, produced by Trent, have that same feel.
The album opens with the amazing “The Devil Is All Around,” a stellar introduction to Shovels & Rope if you need one. “I got wasted and I sat around the fire all day seeing if I could find someone to make love to / And I barely even noticed how the fibers they tear away from the fabric of my being,” they sing on this standout track.
Another highlight is “After The Storm,” a haunting tune that pulls at your heartstrings with lyrics like, “I’ve been spinning for so long / now I guess I’m spun,” and powerful, straining vocals full of feeling from Hearst and Trent. As the song ends and the two sing “my mistakes they are so many / for my weary heart is wild,” it will give you goosebumps every time.
“Coping Mechanism” is a catchy song about drugs with lines like “I do my best to keep the confusion to a minimum / I try not to be the monster of the millennium.” The song has a doo-wop feel, and the addition of piano is just right.
Water runs through Swimmin’ Time, and in the same way rain soaks through our clothes and seeps into our skin, these thirteen songs soak into our bones. Full of feeling and passion, these often-dark tales stick with you long after the final note of mournful closer “Thresher.”
Strong writing and stories about finding hope amid storms, floods, and sinking battleships make this a standout record. There’s a darker feel to this album than their previous O’ Be Joyful. They’ve added organ and strings, but it has the same for-the-love-of-music-and-the-love-of-each other feel as the duo’s first album. Hearst and Trent whisper and shout, strain and harmonize to get their stories across with passion and feeling.
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
The Montreal-based quintet Stars return two years after their album The North with a simpler, tighter, and mostly upbeat collection of music with their latest entry No One is Lost.
The opening selection “From the Night” is a tribute to the Royal Phoenix, a nightclub where the band had recorded above. It’s a fun, danceable selection that prepares you for a great night on the town - full of promise and unpredictability. The atmosphere conveyed on this track is in great contrast with perhaps one of the strongest tracks, the Country-tinged ballad “Look Away”. One can interpret the lyrics of “Look Away” as a question of how to reconcile a secret relationship forged from a hazy, liquor-fueled crazy night out many years ago. It’s a mature, melancholy, meaningful piece that distinguishes itself from the New Order influenced “Are You Okay” or “No One Is Lost”, the latter which would sound at home alongside a Black-Eyed Peas track.
Many have commented that No One is Lost, is series of danceable pop songs but the slower pieces such as “Turn It Up” and “The Stranger” demonstrate the band’s adept ability to melodically express feelings of regret and self-pity.
No One is Lost reminds us of the great parties we once attended and then wonder what would have happened if fate had treated us differently while we were out.
– Patrick Li
Ever since Emilia came out last year with “Closer All The Time” from her impressive 4-track EP Flying Colors, I have been anticipating her new music and now the wait is over. Simply titled E, this exciting new 10-song collection pours the same emotional intensity into meaningful lyrics, based on her life experiences against a variety of rhythm changes, genres and instruments.
“The City Misses You,” a song about missing someone is a gentle piano ballad with the jazzy sounds of a muted-trumpet, and you will be close to tears while hearing the heartfelt track “You Make Me Happy.” But they are not all deep songs about life. On “Bombshell,” the opening track, Emilia shows her playful side by bringing an apt sultriness to this pop rock tune, while “How I Got Over You,” commands the listener’s attention with an upbeat, catchy lead before slowing down for a moment, only to return to the toe-tapping hook. I could see this one being a fan favourite.
Emilia shares producing credits with musical arranger Joel Lightman, engineering and mixing was done by Juno Award winner George Seara (Drake, Rhianna, Holly Cole). On top of recording and rehearsing, Emilia is also working towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at York University, where she has studied with some of Canada’s top jazz musicians, including Frank Falco, Sherie Marshall and Mike Cado.
E is an amazing album from an amazing talent; Now available on iTunes and the physical disc is set to release in early November.
– Charmaine Elizabeth Merchant (Facebook @elizabethcharms)
The debut disc Just Rivers from Toronto indie folk/country/rock (yes, they can be classed as all three) clan Beams, is like that cup of hot chocolate that you reach for when you are in the mood for a sweet treat. Light and sweet is just the way to describe the pretty blending of vocals by lead singer and banjo player Anna Mernieks, with those of long-time friend and band mate Heather Mazhar. The rest of the band, consisting of Mernieks drummer and partner Mike Duffield, Dave Hamilton on mandolin, Craig Moffatt on bass, Martin Crawford on lap steel and Keith Hamilton who plays something interesting called a musical saw, combine their colourful instruments to convey their unique sound. Mernieks weaves her personal life experiences into the songwriting on Just Rivers resulting in a lovely album of meaningful storytelling and energetic rythms.
The hauntingly beautiful “Be My Brother” is the opening track to the 12-set disc, with several songs to follow that will certainly grab your ear’s attention. “Sun Wraps Round” is an upbeat, chirpy tune that reminds me of a warm summer’s day, while “Picture this” will make you want to kick up your feet. Also check out their fantastic cover of Portishead’s “Glorybox.”
The band is currently set to tour with an upcoming date at 3030 Dundas West (The 3030) on November 7, 2014.
– Charmaine Elizabeth Merchant (Facebook @elizabethcharms)
Elephant Stone's new album The Three Poisons, continues to be a musical fusion of East meets West, but above all else, it is a beautiful blending of artistic maturity and discovery. Unlike their last release, which was recorded live, this is a more mature thematic endeavour.
Having the opportunity to experiment in the studio, is perhaps the key reason why this recording might be one of the best albums of 2014. I do not say this lightly. In a landscape which suffocates the listener with a plethora of unfiltered noise, streaming mindlessly from many platforms, there is nothing like The Three Poisons.
Elephant Stone are a hard working band. Literally! Although they are pursuing their dream of making a sustainable living from their music, at the moment they are working full time jobs, recording, and touring. One wonders whether this has seeped into their musical consciousness, making the album refreshing and timely.
The Three Poisons was inspired by the Buddhist teaching which lists ignorance, attachment, and aversion as the primary causes that keep human beings trapped in unhappiness. Ignorance is the root poison, leading to the other two. This is a noticeable departure from their previous self titled effort. For the first time they have a collection of songs that is unified by a common theme. This thematic approach is explored in each individual track. Most notable is the song Knock You From Your Mountain. This Dylanesque protest song, fused with Eastern rhythm and a touch of Pink Floyd, comments on ignorance of those fighting wars, and those of us who watch the news, yet blissfully remain ignorant bystanders.
There are many other gems on the album that require their proper turn and point out a deep musical chemistry and intuitiveness between Gavin and Rishi. The western electric guitar and the eastern sitar speak with a single tone and purpose. Throughout the album one has the surreal impression as though their instruments had the capability of finishing each other's sentences.
The band as a whole needs to be congratulated for contributing such a recording to our rich Canadian landscape. A tour is already planned, but compose your excitement and give this The Three Poisons a good listen.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
In her debut record, Vancouver native Deborah Ledon brings a very smooth, laid back and sensual take on adult contemporary Latin Jazz that is infused with creative arrangements, clear vocals, and strong back up from a team of skillful musicians.
Instead of littering her debut jazz record with pure Great American songbook standards, Ledon takes songs from various pop icons, some jazz classics, Latin standards and even tosses in a few originals of her own make up the record. For instance, Deborah brought a lot of freshness and uniqueness by interpreting k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving” in a Latin style; She performs Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic “I Will Survive” as a moody, romantic, yet light Latin number that was innovative and not kitschy at all; Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” was recreated with a spicy salsa groove; and Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” was given a moody tango backdrop that adds to the “misterioso” of Leonard Cohen’s music.
Some of the originals on the album include “Se Va Y Se Va”, “Te Estrano”, and “I Love To Love You”. With these songs it shows Ledon’s great command of the Latin idiom and language, and she is also an effective communicator of expressing her emotions through her own work.
What I appreciate in Deborah’s voice is her clear sense of diction and feeling when she sings such songs. The lyrics are treated with proper respect and she is really coming of her own as a Latin jazz stylist. The overall project would have benefited from more varied styles such as swing, but with this record and what she is trying to do she has effectively found her niche in Latin music and is willing to grow within it. Deborah’s “Diving for Pearls” is a debut full of promise, poise, and possibility for one who is willing to take creative new risks with her music.
– Conrad Gayle
Saudade is a Portuguese word known for being notoriously difficult to translate into English. Roughly, it comes to mean a sense of profound melancholy or longing, and it is a common element in the music of Portugal and Brazil. It is no surprise, then, that Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante’s music is filled with this saudade – he even overtly uses the word in the delicate standout, “Irene”. Amarante, best known for his work with Little Joy, Los Hermanos and Orquestra Imperial, has embarked on his first solo effort, entitled Cavalo.
Right off the bat, the listener is swept away on the light breeze of “Nada Em Vão”, a soft, wistful tune that also feels rather sensual thanks to Amarante’s smooth, silky voice, and punchy brass peppered here and there. In contrast, “Hourglass”, one of the album’s more rock-oriented tracks, has Amarante sounding eerily similar to Julian Casablancas, his voice bearing the reedy gruffness and stylistic inflections of the Strokes frontman.
Cavalo is like a musical and cultural melting pot; Amarante alternates between singing in English, French and Portuguese, and incorporates elements from various musical cultures and genres. The listener gets a taste of tropicália, bossa nova, folk and rock all within the span of about 38 minutes. That being said, the album still manages to feel like a cohesive whole with songs that complement each other. Though his music may be full of saudade, Amarante’s Cavalo should fare no trouble translating to English-speaking audiences.
– Maria Sokulsky-Dolnycky (Twitter @marisodo)
Pennywise, the punk legends from Southern California, have just released their eleventh studio album, Yesterdays. As of 2013, this album marks 25 years of Pennywise. The album includes many songs that were written by former bassist, Jason Thirsk, who passed away 18 years ago. To say the least, Yesterdays does the fallen icon justice.
The work by Thirsk had never previously been recorded. Vocalist Jim Lindberg via Epitaph Records, explains: “We always wanted to go back and record these songs because later in our career we started to get more political and angry— that may have turned some people off but that’s what we were feeling at the time … In the back of our minds we knew we had these cool, old songs that were more life-affirming, it just took us 25 years to get back to it.”
The evolution of punk has been vast and fast. Many trends and bands often find their way to 'old school' status in less than 10 short years. With that in mind, there is a hefty weight on the shoulders of the 'classic' punkers to keep themselves relevant, without conforming to changing trends. A few veterans maintain relevance and are the encouragement of generation after generation; some achieve influential levels of success and accept their page in history, which is no doubt respectable. Others refuse to let the dream -- or the income -- die. We've all seen those 40+ dudes whose band had a few tours in the ‘80s and ‘90s and still play the same 10, four-chord songs that they've played for 20 years, which wear us out with tired examples of exaggerated egos.
Which brings us back to Pennywise: a machine seemingly oblivious to trends and resistant to irrelevance. Even though their name hasn't had much weight in headlines or album charts in recent years, make no mistake that they are always present.
While not officially labeled as a 'tribute', it's difficult to consider Yesterdays as anything else. It is simple and honest. Not solely a tribute to a fallen friend, but also to a fallen generation. The world today is sparse in similarity to a once glorious scene. The kids are falling for the weakest sleight of hand; governments worldwide are fighting their own people. Music is one of the few purities and Pennywise have voiced the minds of an ever-silenced era. Naturally, this is all orchestrated so well that each time after “I Can Remember”, you'll have an urge for “What You Deserve”.
Yesterdays will be around for many tomorrows.
– Taylor Kerr (Twitter @tkerr7)
Early Riser marks Jerry Leger's seventh album in less than 10 years and it's clear that he's a man on a mission to reinvigorate the Canadian Roots Rock landscape for the better. When listening to his latest release, artists like The Cash Brothers, The Sadies and Dustin Bentall come to mind as the songs deliver a serious Canadiana vibe from melody to lyrics. It’s the kind of album that you’ll want to spin for a long drive through the prairies on a cross-country trek; it could easily be put on repeat without wearing thin. Along with an enviable cast of studio musicians that appear on the album, Leger commissioned the seasoned production skills of Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), a man who has been around the hit-single block a few times and was the perfect fit to put this album in its proper place. These amazing songs shine with tasteful injections of fiddle, pedal steel, keys, gospel backup vocals and much more – while never overdoing any of the above –giving each song its own persona. Early Riser’s overall package is so easy to take in.
Standout tracks include the opener, “Factory Made”, a dramatic song with heavy bass lines that push the tune into dark places, keeping a continuity of beauty and subtle messages of life perspective and personal strife. Not only does this song set the bar extremely high for the remainder of the album, it also has a super catchy chorus that sticks. “Nobody’s Angel” is another track that caught my attention; it’s a sweet ballad of a young woman whose compromised lifestyle is something of a never-ending tragedy. The meandering and subtle piano mixed with tremolo guitars and Leger’s velvety emotional voice really lays down a heavy mood. I could listen to this song with a drink in hand and sob my eyes out. Moving on, “She Ain't My Woman and I Ain't No Woman's Man” is a cool Dylan-esque tune with loads of percussion and a strong set of lyrics. This tune paints a picture of a rough and tumble troubadour with more than one lover; it’s certainly one of the album’s highlights.
Overall we have a VERY impressive release here, something the band and contributing players should be very proud of. I certainly look forward to hearing these songs live.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Canadian punk band, White Lung, released their third studio album entitled Deep Fantasy.
Hailing from Vancouver, White Lung showcases that a group of three women (and their male guitarist) can create superior punk tunes in a male-dominated field of the music industry. Expect strong vocals that aggressively overthrow the stereotypical female voice and intricate, hard, and heavy instrumentals.
White Lung creates tunes that are reminiscent of old school punk, with some hardcore flare. The album artwork of Deep Fantasy is an erratic and wild Photoshop mash up which translates the energy White Lung puts into writing and performing their music.
Check out tracks “Down It Goes” and “Sycophant”.
– Emily Fin
Meh. The remixes were meh. At first, when I saw Fatman Scoop AND Skrillex, I was excited to turn up the volume and just indulge in ear candy. But about 1:37 seconds through the first song, I was thinking, “Wait, what am I listening to? I don’t even know. What is this?” And then by the third track, I didn’t even know I was listening to the third track, I thought it was still the first one. Then I was thinking, “Wait, I don’t even know the song titles.” But nonetheless, every time I zoned back into the music I wished I was at a live show jumping around. The album definitely has a lot of energy and potential, but this is clearly not Skrillex’s, Kill the Noise’s or Fat Man Scoop's best work. It was boring. There is not a lot to say about the remixes other than, it was… aight, I guess.
− Jaii Bhamra (Facebook @jaiikbhamra)
Chromeo have managed to put together a pretty good album, but they’re just too cool to admit it. Four years after Chromeo’s mainstream hit Business Casual, the Montreal-based duo are back with their fourth album, White Women. With Chromeo’s latest release, members Dave1 and P-Thugg have made their manifesto clear: bring disco back from the dead. To help in their mission, the group has enlisted a variety of musicians to aid them including: Solange Knowles, Toro Y Mori and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. In their mission, Chromeo have for the most part have succeeded. P-Thugg keeps the album drenched in a hearty dose of ‘80s synth and ‘70s funk. Lead vocalist Dave1 keeps the lyrics simple with songs about jealous lovers, teasing socialites and ‘80s nostalgia. White Women opens with song of the summer nominee “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)”. While it’s not the album’s high point, it’s without a doubt the catchiest and most radio-friendly song on the record. Opening the album with such a track acts as a double-edged sword: on one hand it serves as a fantastic introduction for what to expect from the record. Those who purchase White Women solely from listening to “Jealous” won’t be disappointed. On the other hand, the song is so catchy and so addictive it’s easy for casual listeners to click the repeat button and forget there are 11 other tracks that are just as easy to dance to. Chromeo are clearly having a blast on White Women. Each song is fun and it’s not hard to imagine anyone getting an enthusiastic response from club goers on the dance floor. While White Women won’t be put beside such disco classics as Saturday Night Live, it‘s something entirely different. It’s disco for the 21st century.
– Morgan Harris
Low expectations would not be among the most common prior to the release of Every Time I Die's seventh studio album, From Parts Unknown. All of the properties were in place for one absolutely flawless piece of work. As of July 1st, all of the hype and attention that had been built up was released upon the masses in hard copy. However, it's likely that you had heard the album already.
Let's step back to take a minute to appreciate what, exactly, this album is. For those who don't know, Converge has been well respected in the industry for the better part of 20 years now. Converge guitar player, Kurt Ballou, had the pleasure of orchestrating this cultural masterpiece. Meanwhile, Every Time I Die prove once again, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are one of this generations most influential bands. With their own personal brand of formaldehyde for today's pop music, they shake the foundation and keep this scene on it's toes. The two forces are really quite remarkable.
The discomfort felt inside of Keith Buckley's soulfully melodic tonal urges, act as a vice grip on a cog to ensure the tightest fit. Some people have expressed disinterest in Keith's singing and suggest that there is too much, or that it isn't appropriate for the music. Others disagree entirely and claim that it actually develops a darker edge within the music. A handful of bands, that will remain nameless, have taken the road less heavy in their recent albums; ETID have not followed suit. Some say that the beauty in a great work of art is the initial ugliness and subsequent re-evaluation of your perspective. "The Great Secret" is, if anything, raw. From Parts Unknown is a beautiful train wreck.
To say the least, the boys done good. Easily one of the finest albums of the year.
Another classic for your collection.
– Taylor Kerr (Twitter @tkerr7)
More than 30 years have passed since his Bauhaus days and now Peter Murphy is back three years after his last solo album with Lion, his tenth solo album. He is still dealing in commanding gothic sub-Bowieisms from opener “Hang Up”. Nowadays it's mid ‘90s Bowie that he's cribbing from (“I Am My Own Name”), which is a less worn path. There is a serious misstep early on with “Low Tar Stars”, which goes all goth high-energy with a bit of Pearl Jam. Yes, that is as strange as it sounds.
The slow, relatively stripped back “I'm On Your Side”, “Compression” and “Loctaine” are a distinct improvement, each featuring a rousing chorus. A whole album of this can get a bit much, in the case of plodding dirge “The Rose” (featuring plaintive wailing). On the other hand, The Horrors would kill for a tune like “Ghosts of Shokan Lake”, and “Eliza” could fit nicely on last year's Queens of the Stone Age album Like Clockwork, allowing for the semi-Eldritch vocals.
The closing title track gives Murphy a chance for a pleasingly indulgent vocal on the final dark anthem. Although dated in its sound, the album is a reasonably enjoyable listen.
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
What would happen if Pink Floyd tried to make a blues record? Thanks to The Black Keys and their latest release, Turn Blue, listeners can now imagine such an album. The hard rocking duo have dialed back the bluesy influence of past albums and instead fully embraced the psychedelic sounds that were so popular with the Woodstock generation. The result is a Black Keys album that really doesn’t sound much like a Black Keys album. It’s a gamble that has paid off greatly for Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. Rather then feeling safe with the success of 2011’s El Camino and following it up with El Camino 2.0, the duo have thrown caution to the wind and created a brand new listening experience for longtime fans of the band. While Turn Blue marks the fourth collaboration between The Black Keys and producer/songwriter Danger Mouse, his influence on the album is perhaps more overtly felt on this record. The title track “Turn Blue” sounds almost as if it was a leftover track from Broken Bells’ After the Disco. Just replace James Mercer’s haunting vocals with the barroom antics of Auerbach. It’s these contrasting styles of blues, psychedelic and garage rock that help make Turn Blue such a memorable album. Like most great bands, The Black Keys continue to evolve and grow with each album. Each one is a definitive capsule of everything that is The Black Keys in that particular moment. With that in mind, we have no idea what the next album will sound like, but it’s impossible to not be excited to hear what comes next.
– Morgan Harris
The mysterious music of Lykke Li brings pleasure, pain, sadness and joy among other intense feelings. Her unique style of swooping ambient sounds with an eerily beautiful voice will stun you and have you immediately hooked. Li's most recent release, I Never Learn is a masterpiece and was brought to life with the AMAZING production skills of Björn Yttling (Peter Bjorn and John, David Lynch, Young Folks), which resulted in an unparalleled collection of power ballads that are soon to make this young Swedish star a household name worldwide.
Li wastes no time getting to her most potent material with track one, “I Never Learn”. This wonderful song is one of the more robust offerings without question; it starts with a George Harrison style acoustic strum, which has the potential of going in multiple directions, however, when the vocals begin it's clear that there's something much deeper at work here. As the chilling vocals and orchestration are introduced, the overall sound locks solidly into place as a dark ambient indie release. Track two, “No Rest For The Wicked” is the album's first single and is currently getting the young songstress plenty of attention on radio and TV. She recently performed the song on Jimmy Kimmel Live to a packed L.A. crowd. As the album meanders through dark and unsettling places, I come across “Never Gonna Love Again”, an absolute showstopper of s song. Its anthemic chorus was pretty much made for Hollywood; I wouldn't be surprised if it appears in a big budget movie very soon. I would have LOVED to hear a pre-chorus in this song, but I'll take it either way -- it's way too catchy to resist. The song that truly personifies this somber album is “Sleeping Alone”; you can actually hear and feel heartbreak in the young woman's voice, after all, she did write this entire album shortly after a messy breakup with her boyfriend. Bookending a pretty much perfect release is the song “Heart of Steel”, yet another amazing power ballad that showcases a gospel choir; it will simply leave you breathless.
I very rarely come across an album that merits five stars and I truly feel this one deserves a six. Li's heartfelt songs brought tears, chills, happiness, goose bumps and a full range of feelings like nothing I've never experienced before while listening to a record. This album is simply a MUST HAVE.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
It’s clear upon the first listen of their self-titled EP that Weaves have carved a compelling sound that can’t be easily pinned down.
The brainchild of actor/producer/musician Morgan Waters and former Rat Tail vocalist Jasmyn Burke (with Zach Bines on bass and Spencer Cole on drums), their collaboration results in a mishmash of bouncy, electric-guitar fused dancing tunes with a ‘60s sensibility, all threaded together with the strong, heady vocals of Jasmyn Burke.
Their story reads like a modern day indie music fairy tale: after they met totally by chance, Burke and Waters exchanged cellphone music demos and realized they completed one another musically. Merging Waters’ background in pop with Burke’s talent for experimental sound and adding the fantastic rhythmic duo of Bines and Cole to the mix, Weaves has conceived a unique brand of arty, weirdo rock that they are now performing at shows, happily ever after.
They have pretty solid support behind the scenes as well. David Newfeld, who also has producing credits on albums for local indie music darlings Broken Social Scene and Los Campesinos!, produced two of their tracks, “Closer” and “Buttercup”.
Although their sound comes on really strong, absorbing it in small doses results in a sensuously satisfying high. Super-charged, sexy songs like “Buttercup” and “Motorcycle” will get you shaking your rump, while the more explosive “Take a Dip” gives you permission to let your hair down and headbang. On the other end of the album’s spectrum are the arty and weird “Hulahoop”, the more delicate and sweetly melodic “Do You See Past” and the more accessible and rockin’ “Closer”.
Their ability to morph from song to song is probably the most intriguing thing about Weaves. In a recent “Band to Watch” profile with Rolling Stone, Burke explained that they are seeking to make something different and don’t want to be a part of one specific scene. One look at their vibrant album cover design or at their surreal, cartoonish videos and it’s apparent this band can’t be boxed in. The list of shows they have played at are eclectic as well. Small fry outdoor fests like Empty Fest and the TO-based Wavelength concert series have included them on their lineup, but they have also graced the stage at big-time fests like SXSW and will be featured at the upcoming NXNE fest.
Although I haven’t had the privilege to see them live, I would bet this is a far-out sound to experience at a festival. If you lack the funds for a festival ticket, you should listen to this EP outside in your backyard high or while working on your next art project.
But be wary: the more you listen, the more habit forming this EP really is. And if you are in need of another hit, you’ll be happy to know the band’s upcoming debut LP will be out soon. Indeed, it will be interesting to see what they cook up next.
– Andrea Pare
Look down, look away.
I am not responding to that.
Do not engage. We all know it. It's that vibe you send out when you don't want to engage in conversation in public, or respond to that nasty comment on social media. That is precisely what The Pack A.D.'s latest album is about. However, if you were trying to pin the anger or aloofness on songwriter/guitarist Becky Black, you'd be mistaken. Black writes her songs from the perspectives of the characters in her songs. What we have here is a collection of eleven of the raunchiest, rocking-est songs they have released to date.
Do Not Engage is the fifth studio album for the Vancouver duo, produced by Jim Diamond (White Stripes, Alice Cooper). Diamond also produced their fourth album, 2011's Unpersons, resulting in a Juno nomination for Breakthrough Group Of The Year. They have been compared in the past to The Black Keys, The White Stripes and The Kills. Indeed, their sound to date has been a great mix of rock and blues, however this album sees them maturing into a much more sophisticated yet raunchier sound.
Black's guitar and drummer Maya Miller's beats come together with as much subtlety as an air raid siren. Together they form the perfect backdrop for Black's vocals. Sometimes pleading, sometimes mocking, her vocals are always edgy and raunchy. This album isn't meant to be pretty. From the drumbeats of “Airborne”, the beat and the pulse are relentless. “Animal”, “Creeping Jenny” and “Battering Ram” are rock-hard highlights here. “Loser” slows it down a little as a great ballad in character of a passive-aggressive loner. The final track, “Needles”, is a lulling, almost country-like ballad, with vocals that are gentle and haunting, leaving us wanting more.
If The Pack A.D.'s intent with this album was truly ‘Do Not Engage’, then they have failed terribly in their mission. Once you start this album, you are completely engaged from start to finish. You just can't help yourself.
– Trish Melanson Hill (Twitter@spydrgyrl)
This is by far the ugliest album cover in the vast canon of popular music. It requires serious sustained effort to avoid making contact with its putrid qualities. The songs themselves, however, show a semblance of promise.
As a follow up to their 2012 release A Sleep & A Forgetting, this set of tracks leaves the listener with mixed feelings. The potential is certainly there and there is much promise for the future. As a band, Islands have recently migrated south from their Montreal home and have taken up residence in Los Angeles, California. As a band, they need maturing and distancing themselves from the Montreal scene may be exactly what they need.
Ski Mask seems to paint them correctly -- or incorrectly -- as a type of bland, ‘poppy-rock’ phenomena, a trend that is currently percolating all over the planet. Being part of any profitable musical scene has its advantages, but it does pose a real threat by limiting the artist’s uniqueness and creativity. Not to mention their identity.
But enough criticism. The world is filled with it, and we are no better for it.
There is a triad of songs on Ski Mask that deserve special attention. “Nil”, “Becoming a Gunship”, and “Sad Middle” are amazing. It seems the shorter the song the better it sounds. “Nil” is by far the most noticeable and memorable track. It weighs in at a puny 2:08 minutes, but it packs a mean punch. After all, who doesn’t love a great drinking song about split personalities? “Becoming a Gunship” and “Sad Middle” offer refreshing melodies and instrumentation, but the album as a whole does not have the cohesiveness necessary to secure its listen ability.
I would love to hear more from Islands in the future, but it is my sincerest hope that they search far and wide for a new art director.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
50 years ago, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz collaborated with Brazilian singer and guitarist Joao Gilberto, his wife Astrud Gilberto and pianist/composer Antonio Carlos Jobim to produce what I would call the “Kind of Blue” of Brazilian Jazz. The album would go on to win four Grammy awards, including the two top prizes for Album of the Year and Record of the Year for “The Girl From Ipanema”.
In this expanded edition, it is primarily a feast for the audiophile and jazz collector since the edition features both the stereo and (for the first time on CD) mono versions of the eight classic tracks, plus two bonus tracks of the singles version of “Ipanema” and “Corcovado”. In addition to the classic liner notes from Getz, Gilberto and Gene Lees, it also features a newly penned essay from Marc Myers and lots of photos taken from the session.
For those wanting to acquaint themselves to the beauty of Brazilian jazz and have good music in time for the World Cup, Getz/Gilberto is a must-have simply because it is timeless music performed by timeless musicians at the peak of their careers. This is also an important album that defined an era and a culture in the 1960’s that was exploring and trying out new and exciting things, such as the fusion of cool jazz with Brazilian melodies and beats.
The music in Getz/Gilberto also showed that jazz could be innovative and popular without watering down the music or becoming too abstract to alienate the listener. It was easy, peaceful music, with Stan Getz improvising cool lines on his sax, and the voices of Joao and Astrud adding a romantic subtlety to the music. Jobim may have played sparsely on the album, yet through compositions such as “So Danco Samba”, “Corcovado” and the smash hit “Girl From Ipanema” it has cemented him as a bonafide jazz legend.
Getz/Gilberto is a fitting way to celebrate and commemorate a classic album in all of its award-winning glory, winning old and new fans alike with its unmistakable charms.
– Conrad Gayle
Bob Mould's eleventh solo album by and large finds him sounding rejuvenated. Opener “Low Season” has growling, brooding guitars in the manner of his classic Black Sheets of Rain album. It's a mood that suits him greatly, yet one he doesn't pursue. After the smouldering of the opening track, the album catches fire with the breakneck paced, pounding “Little Glass Pill”. Based on the evidence of these two tracks, Mould is not about to shuffle quietly off into mellow reflection.
The pace doesn't let up with rabble-rousers “Kid With Crooked Face”, “Hey Mr. Grey” and “Tomorrow Morning” barreling along, barely keeping up with themselves. “I Don't Know You Anymore” takes a classic Ramones chord sequence, slows it down and makes it sound effortless, while “Nemeses Are Laughing” and “The War” are in the vein of his ‘90s Sugar material.
Breezy strum “Forgiveness” and “Let The Beauty Be” are more relaxed than anything else here, acting as a breather on a fast, hard-rocking album, one which concludes with a final blast of energy in “Fix It”.
Dismiss this one at your peril. Although it's nothing new for Bob Mould and it certainly doesn't scale the heights of Husker Dü, Sugar or his early solo material, it may well be his best collection of songs in fifteen years.
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
The Twin Forks is a good band, but their album post-production work hinders their listeners in appreciating their real talent.
Perhaps it is unfair to mention Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers, but it is impossible not to draw obvious comparisons. Both groups are at the epicentre of the best folk rock revolution in recent memory. What makes Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers so powerful as artists is their strong acoustic delivery and their deeply meaningful lyrics. By comparison, The Twin Forks do not live up to these two qualities.
Their sound is very overproduced and hides, or at the very least underwhelms, the beauty of their melodies. All of their tracks suffer from enormous post-production. The human ear, like the human soul, longs for the harmony of their voices and the simplicity of their instruments, but is suffocated with modern technology.
Lyrically, they do not fare any better either. I offer a very quick comparison.
"Kiss Me Darling"
(The Twin Forks)
It's been a long time since
I saw you in the village playing mandolin
Something in your singing made my burdens lift
Hanging onto every word to cross your lips
Feels like a long way gone
But I can still remember how you sang that song
Smiling like nobody had ever done you wrong
Strumming like you knew you had me all along
"Flowers in Your Hair"
When we were younger we thought
Everyone was on our side
Then we grew a little
And romanticized the time I saw
Flowers in your hair
Cause it takes a boy to live
But it takes a man to pretend he was there
Without digressing into the minutia of literary theory, it may be enough here to point out what is missing – depth. It would be very unfair to profess that “Kiss Me Darling” doesn’t offer any meaning because it does. I am sure it provides tremendous meaning to the songwriter, but it lacks that universal appeal that is so imperative in order to make a connection with the listener. The Lumineer's song by contrast, has the necessary literary depth because it employs powerful literary devices. It uses humour and can evoke deep, vividly reflective images that allow the listener an opportunity to return time and time again.
I sincerely hope that this is not the last we hear from The Twin Forks. The world has room for more artists like them and the musical panorama certainly needs them. They have tremendous strength, a gift of melody making and a deep desire to connect with their fans. Perhaps their next record will provide the seemingly missing ingredients.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
Damon Albarn has had a conflicted relationship with modern life for decades. As frontman for Britpop band Blur in the ‘90s, Albarn sang about the cultural homogenization that would inevitably ruin landscapes beyond America’s shores. Yet, he is also one of the masterminds behind virtual group Gorillaz in the early 2000’s, recording one of their albums entirely on his iPad.
Fast forward to today and Albarn continues to struggle with this contradiction on his latest work, Everyday Robots, an autobiographical album that is built with both electronic and organic soundscapes. His lyrics simultaneously look at how real moments make a life and how devices take the life out of the moment.
When conceiving the album, Albarn says he and his co-producer, funk legend Bobby Womack, considered forming another pop band like Gorillaz, but ultimately decided that at 46-years-old it was more apropos for Albarn to tell his own story.
Indeed, Albarn’s story is one worth telling. From confessions about his heroin use on “You & Me” to his coming of age in Leytonstone, England on “Hollow Ponds”, as well as his experience meeting a baby elephant in Tanzania on “Mr. Tembo”, Albarn’s life and perspective are intriguing.
Equally intriguing is his relationship to technology. The title track “Everyday Robots” looks at the void we attempt to fill with gadgets, which Albarn says was inspired by his experience amidst a mass of people staring at their phones in an LA traffic jam. He continues this train of thought on the atmospheric “Lonely Press Play”, where he croons about escaping via distraction and then on “The Selfish Giant” where he sings, “It’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on”, revealing the impotence that comes as a result of this distraction.
Due to the heavy subject matter -- and perhaps Albarn’s own reflective nature -- most of the songs have a melancholic tinge to it, with the exceptions of the upbeat “Mr. Tembo” and “Parakeet”, a short piece that contains a lot of electronic chirping but no lyrics.
As an entity, the album begs the listener to stay with it and re-listen, which may be its final irony. However, if you are willing to wade through the depths alongside Albarn, you will be rewarded with songs that take root and make you feel (almost) human.
– Andrea Pare
It's been four years since Canadian quartet Tokyo Police Club released their last studio-length album, and in the time since they have only continued to hone their signature pop-slash-post-punk style. The efforts of which have culminated in their latest full-length album release, Forcefield.
The album opens with the epic nine-minute track "Argentina I, II, III" which builds nicely and doesn't feel as drawn-out as one would expect from a band whose songs generally don't last beyond four minutes. In fact, they pull it off rather magnificently and it feels like a subtle "screw you" to critics who have condemned the band's slow evolution in the past. "Hot Tonight", the magnum opus of the album, is clearly geared for the radio with rock riffs and sing-along lyrics like “I need a countdown when the fire is high/ Sitting on the curb and it’s hot tonight." Other stand-out tracks include the super-catchy "Miserable", "Beaches" and latest single "Toy Guns".
The band claims that Forcefield is meant to be a reference to their supposed rejection of pop trends in music. It is surely tongue-in-cheek because Forcefield is arguably Tokyo Police Club's most accessible and trendy album yet. Not that that's a bad thing, however.
– Alyson Shane (Twitter @alysonshane)
One’s heart may beat faster while envisioning what could have been; Coldplay’s sixth studio album Ghost Stories tells the sombre tale of lead singer Chris Martin’s personal life and his ending relationship to now ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow. The song titles alone give light to the fact that his life was taking a catawamptious turn and it was something he wanted to share with his fans along with the world. “Always in my Head”, “Magic”, “Ink” and “Oceans” ooze emotion, poetic undertones dripping dim colour off the lips of what I recall to be a vibrant and charismatic lead singer once upon a time. “A Sky Full of Stars”, co-written by Swedish DJ and record producer Avicii, is the band’s first dance tune inspired by house music and goes off the pre- forecasted gloom the rest of the tracks protrude. In “Midnight” Martin sings: “In the darkness before the dawn/In the swirling of this storm/When I'm rolling with the punches/And hope is gone/Leave a light, a light on.” Oh Gwyneth, what have you done? Maybe working nine to five isn’t as hard as working on a movie set.
Usually I don’t get mixed up in musicians lives, but I like Martin. He’s done tons of charity work, stopped eating meat on Mondays and usually delivers lyrics that make my skin tingle. This album screams suicide hotline and although I’m all for getting help, I yearn for “The Scientist” or even “Yellow”, which was the track I liked the least. There is no reason why that is. I don’t know why the other band members didn’t set up an intervention seeing how upset their front man was. Maybe they’re all going through break ups. None of this makes sense. Coldplay is touring this summer and I would love the opportunity to ask Martin why he named his first born Apple, but I don’t think he would answer me. All joking aside I can’t stop writing about this album, which should tell you that you should give it a listen and judge for yourself. Don’t listen to me, I’m down in the dumps from listening to this album 18 times. Maybe I’m cynical because I haven’t broken up with someone in years and yearn to write a sad song about them. Maybe my nickname is Apple and I am jealous of his 8-year-old daughter. Maybe I’m jealous of Gwyneth because she gets to work with Robert Downey Junior. I can’t be sure. All I can ask is that you at least listen to the last track of the album titled “O”, which has a three minute pause during the song. A perfect time for a refill of your favorite alcoholic beverage, take a trip to the corner store for some beef jerky, or perhaps make a call to your ex to tell him or her to f**k off!
– Erica Leon (Twitter @EricaLeon1)
I was walking down the street when the atmosphere around me suddenly shifted. Over the course of the next few minutes my reality was contorted and rearranged in a way that I never thought possible; there is Room on The Moon, this much I was sure of.
Artistically speaking, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult is still pushing the boundaries of acceptance. Spooky Tricks, the title of The Thrill Kill Kult's 11th full length studio album and their first in five years, is a loaded gun primed with elements of a galactic acid jungle, infused with just the right balance of desire for overindulgence and a misplaced childhood sense of adventure. That being said, there are a few key elements that I feel have been altered for the worse.
At times I feel as though I'm at a German rave in a cement cellar during late 1996, not that this is necessarily a bad thing but it seems too static. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't at the clubs in '96 but that isn't required to know that TKK were ahead of their time during that era. Synth technologies, for example, have come a long way in 18 years and while Lo-Fi is cool and all with the rest of the art form progressing so healthily, it makes it feel out of context and, at times, redundant. I have to be honest, the first time I walked through Spooky Tricks I wasn't exactly impressed. I think it felt a bit cheesy and somewhat hasty, especially compared to much of TKK's earlier work. However, I felt there could be something there and sure enough, somewhere around the middle of my second go it hit me; this album is great. Most of those elements that are out of context in other genres come together in this magnificent collage with such effortless passion, enticing you on with each beat and further note. What a beautiful piece. After consideration, I believe that more work of this calibre and artistic conviction is required for this art and industry to succeed and evolve. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult demonstrates, with exquisite vibrancy, why they deserve to be a classic in any self- respecting music aficionado's catalogue.
– Taylor Kerr
Buddy Rich was heralded as one of the great jazz drummers of all time. What was even more amazing is that he admitted to not even practicing or honing his craft after performances or during his off periods. He never even learned to read music. What came out of him was sheer brilliance and pure legend from the drums.
The staff at Lightyear Entertainment released a never before collection of over 70 minutes of drum solos that Buddy Rich performed during 1976 to 1977. Over these 70 minutes we hear the explosive energy, drive and passion that exudes from Rich’s drumming, which always sets the band on fire.
Upon listening, this is a set that is highly recommended for drum enthusiasts and students of drumming. It’s very rare to have a whole album dedicated to drum soloing, since for the average listener like myself there is no melody or band cohesiveness to draw from. This set primarily showed one dimension of Rich’s playing, while at times not drawing upon colours or different drumming patterns to break up the main monotony of the listening experience.
It would be nice for the organizers of the album to include differing solos and patterns of Rich’s playing to break up the monotony of high-energy pyrotechnics. All in all, it is a fine listen for drumming aficionados to appreciate the legend and the stylistic qualities of a great jazz legend.
– Conrad Gayle
If I said that this is what I have been waiting for, I might not be very far from right. Time will be the true judge of that, but for now I feel warmth inside of a void that I didn’t notice had become so large. The Toronto-based band Teenage Kicks, consisting of brothers Jeff and Peter van Helvoort, have just released their first full-length studio album entitled Spoils of Youth.
Since their inception in 2010, to say they have been busy from then on would be an understatement. After two consecutive self-produced EP’s as a five-piece act, Teenage Kicks had garnered enough cred to have Dan Weston, of City and Colour and Classified, do the mix for their third EP. This, of course, set the stage for what would come next; a tactically peculiar move, yet one chalked full of raw, artistic integrity. During April of last year, an announcement declared that the now four-piece band would travel to Hollywood and have recording icon Alain Johannes take the reigns behind their debut album. Several months later, as those following closely will already know, Peter van Helvoort took the responsibility of recording and producing the album onto his own shoulders, while shedding two other band mates. This would be no easy weight to carry.
This album is the result of hours of relentless passion and hard work -- and it shows. It's quite a difficult task to describe the music that is the Spoils of Youth, as it felt so natural to experience. The van Helvoort brothers invoke a sense of comfort that I was sure had been lost from the rock music scene today. Like true artists at work, Jeff and Peter piece together, with a very raw beauty, exactly how it feels to grow up a little bit rough during the ‘80s and ‘90s, or indeed at any period in time; full of optimism, doubt and a love for all things adventurous. Spoils of Youth is reminiscent of tire swings and sundown campsite cookouts when you're 12-years-old wearing an oversized sweater. At the same time, the album allows you to feel the pride and beauty in growing old; the passions found and lost, the bonds broken and made. A concoction only truly completed by an absolute, rock star attitude towards life in general. Seriously though, these dudes are tight. They really express a chapter of my life that I had almost forgotten about and with such artistic enthusiasm that I feel we grew up together. When I think back to all of my favourite classic albums and how they make me feel, I can certainly draw similarities both stylistically and emotionally. I think to myself how this could album could be part of my collection in 10 years. It's refreshing to know that such artists are comfortable with themselves and have enough balls and integrity to push for more from their work. There will be much more from Teenage Kicks, this you can be sure of!
– Taylor Kerr
The thoughts that lie beneath the film, the thin veil of disguise, are not always what they seem. So it is with Thought Beneath Film's Cartographers. It would be easy to dismiss this album as nothing more than a bubbly, power-pop cocktail. However, beneath all those bouncy beats are powerful, sophisticated lyrics; beneath the film there is so much more.
Cartographers is the first full-length album for the Stoney Creek, Ontario based trio. Three years in the making, it was mixed and mastered by legendary Grammy Award winners Tom Lord-Alge and Bob Ludwig respectively. The result is a clean, razor sharp sound, catchy memorable tunes and refined lyrics. The upbeat melodies contrast with the lyrics woven with teenage angst, searching for purpose and finding one's path. Like the title says, Cartographers, we are finding out own map.
The tone is set early on with razor-sharp guitar riffs and exploding drum beats in the opening track, “Cartography”. It immediately sets the tone of urgency that underlies the theme. “The Art Of Giving Up”, Sixty Six” and “If I Could Fix You (You Know That I Would)” have great melodies and slick vocal harmonies that make you want to sing along. The last track, “This Time”, starts off as a melodic ballad and ends in an orchestra-driven rock song, which somehow leaves you with a sense of reckoning and hope.
Cartographers is the kind of album you want to play in your car at maximum volume with your feet out the open windows on a warm sunny day. It is bound to be the soundtrack of summer 2014 with its catchy tunes, punk pop beats and memorable lyrics. Overall, an impressive debut album.
– Trish Melanson Hill (Twitter @spydrgyrl)
In honour of Ronnie James Dio's incredible music career and immeasurable influence on heavy metal and hard rock, the best of today's metal bands congregated to make an absolutely crushing tribute album that will immortalize RJD's musical legend. This Is Your Life was put together by heavy metal royalty such as Anthrax, Rob Halford, Lemmy Kilmister, Hailstorm, Metallica, Tenacious-D and the list goes on. I truly had goose bumps on multiple occasions when spinning this release for the first time. The track “Rainbow in the Dark” featuring Corey Taylor of Slipknot on vocals seriously sets the tone for what's in store on the album. It's an absolutely CRUSHING version of the song with impeccable production value and stunning vocals. Tenacious-D’s version of “The Last In Line” is equally impressive, with Dave Grohl on drums and the mighty Jack Black on lead vocals. Black sounds as serious as a heart attack here, sidelining the comedy act and really delivering a vocal performance that would make RJD proud. Halestorm's “Straight Through The Heart” is one of the highlights of the album, with singer Lzzy Hale absolutely destroying the mic and really making her presence felt with an untouchable vocal take. Killswitch Engage do a commendable version of “Holy Diver”, a big task taken on a by band that could easily handle such an epic song. After such great performances by the artists mentioned in the above tracks, I was rather unimpressed with Metallica's contributions of Ronnie's Rising Medley featuring “A Light in The Black”, “Tarot Woman”, “Stargazer” and “Kill The King”. A poor choice when they could have instead REALLY kicked one good song's ass.
This is Your Life is HIGHLY recommended for any fan of Dio, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell and any other act RJD has associated with in the hard rock and metal world.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
It’s hard to believe that this is Mark Everett's eleventh album. Easy-listening and gentle, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett is unlike his previous work and is disappointing.
After a brief intro track, “Where I'm At”, “Parallels” starts off the album with a classic folk feel to it. With a sound reminiscent of American folk musician Tim Hardin, this track is probably the best thing on here. Unfortunately, what follows is quite samey. There is nothing jarring or unpleasant, but tracks like “Lockdown Hurricane”, “Series of Misunderstandings” and “Kindred Spirit” slip by with little variation, making little impression.
There are some pleasant moments among the album including the exhausted sounding “Agatha Chang”, the clean guitar outtro of “A Swallow In The Sun” and the spritely shuffle in “Where I'm From”. But nothing here sounds like it matters. By the time you get to “Gentleman's Choice” you transition from not noticing the tracks to willing the album to be over. It’s not even downbeat enough to mope along to. Try again, Mr. E.
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
Electronic duo Young Magic released their second album, Breathing Statues, under Carpark Records. The band creates a collection of 10 tracks that all emit a psychedelic and surreal feel. Their tunes exhibit whimsical melodies, abstract vocals and distinct beats that induce a smooth and captivating listening experience. The entire album takes you on a trip better than any mind-altering drug. Breathing Statues is a great contribution to the electronic-psychedelic music scene. Standout tracks include “Cobra” and “Captcha”.
– Emily Fin
Advanced Basics is the fourth studio release from USS, the Markham-Stouffville-bred strum n’ bass duo Ashley Buchholz and Jason “Human Kebab” Parsons. Buchholz, songwriter/mad scientist-in-the-psych-ward blends dark humour and dad humour (the line ‘formaldehyde and seek’ in “Nepal”, for instance). This adds a necessary buoyancy to the weighty subject matter, which threads addiction, the difficulties of loving damaged people (as a damaged person), and a buttload of heartbreak. The character of Kebab-as-hypeman is quieter than ever, opening the album with a quick “Here we go…” in “Hydrogenuine” and a few hearty woo’s in “Yin Yang”. His presence is felt in his trademark scratching and filthy beats. USS are more confident in each other and their abilities on this record, again joined by producer Tawgs Salter (Approved, Lights’ Siberia) who also exudes a deeper understanding of the band. The album sounds like USS, but more developed than ever before. They’ve come back from summer vacation with breasts, and it’s hard to stop staring.
The ambitious “Built to Break” finds Buchholz at his angstiest; “I don’t mean to trip/ but it’s easier than dealing with it” is balanced by a triumphant arrangement including manager and one-time Not By Choice drummer Liam Killeen. The single “Yin Yang” almost never was — the release of the album was pushed back to accommodate its production. Its addition balances the more morose tracks on the album and serves as an easy analogy for the band’s dynamic – the passive, reflective, sensitive Buchholz contrasting the aggressive, extrovert Parsons, and in each, a dollop of the other.
If you hate USS, this isn’t the album that will change your mind, but casual fans and diehards alike will dig it.
– Linda Julia Paolucci (Twitter @Lindiglo)
I was really excited when I heard that Jay Malinowski, the singer-songwriter and Bedouin Soundclash frontman, was releasing new music after listening to his latest project, Martel by Jay Malinowski & The Deadcoast. After listening to it dozens of times, I am still just as excited. Martel’s 18 songs are divided into two hemispheres, the Pacific and the Atlantic, and together they make up a rich, captivating concept album filled with emotional history and stories of love, loss, death and despair.
Martel takes you on an adventure that offers a taste of such disparate sounds as California pop, New Orleans jazz, Spanish flamenco, Louisiana Cajun, Old World classical, Maritime shanties, ragtime piano and vaudeville. Malinowski’s warm voice brings all these different sounds together as he acts as our guide on this beautiful (sometimes upbeat but mostly dark) journey through his Huguenot ancestor Charles Martel’s history, as well as his own search for answers.
Whether you’re drawn to music or lyrics, you'll find something you love in Martel. Malinowski's piano sets the mood for many songs, and the strings from Vancouver-based trio The End Tree, who collaborated with Malinowski to form Jay Malinowski & The Deadcoast, are creative and intriguing. Malinowski's songwriting is powerful and creates beautiful images, strong characters and compelling stories that sweep you away.
The haunting opening track, “Main-A-Dieu”, immediately draws us in with tolling bells, poetic spoken word and a feeling of waves washing over you. From here, it’s an adventure that just gets better with every listen, as each song on the album corresponds to a point on the map. The album closes with the beautiful, piano-driven “Low, Low, Low” that tells us a bit about how Malinowski got here. “In this world I learned to bare my teeth and grin,” he sings. “I like to think where it goes ain’t where it’s been.”
You’ll want to settle into a comfortable spot and spend a lot of time with Martel. This is not background music; this is music that deserves to be savoured, as Malinowski invites you to share his journey, and at different times to dance, sing along or just close your eyes and listen.
The Martel experience doesn't end after the final notes of “Low, Low, Low”. Malinowski will release a novella companion to the album, Skulls & Bones (Letters From A Sailor To A Long Lost Granddaughter), and there is an interactive website at www.whoismartel.com.
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
The Mary Onettes have strayed.
The Swedish band’s self-titled debut doubled, seamlessly, as ‘80s jangle-pop. If you didn’t know it was new, you might have gone crate digging for some dollar vinyl. Think The Church or The Cure circa “Just Like Heaven”. Heavy on pedigree and long on nostalgia, but it wasn’t as if the band had merely aped the sound to tap into an easy pre-existing audience. The music had depth and an appreciation for its enduring formula. A good hook fueled by jangly guitar, a touch of synth and a dollop of angst.
Since that 2007 full-length debut, the Mary Onettes have increasingly become their own band, still rooted in that mid-‘80s garden of delights, but remaining modern. On their latest record, Portico:, the best tracks reflect the marriage of modern indie-pop with Reagan-era melancholy. “Naïve Dream” again taps into The Cure before spinning off in a direction that recalls the Shout Out Louds and School of Seven Bells. Granted the leap crosses no great sonic chasms, but the shift isn’t always as seamless. For example, “Silence Is a Gun” shows the ragged edges of their evolution to become something more than an ‘80s band that got lost on their way to 2014.
Their aspirations are noble, and I find myself nostalgic for their pitch perfect debut; a record that displayed a sound that was almost too perfect, too complete for a first release. In certain respects, the growth of the Mary Onettes makes Portico: sound like a more traditional debut: rough around the edges and endearing in its imperfections. No matter how far the band strays it’ll always have that anchor in another place and time, comforting listeners with a fuzzy brand of earnest familiarity.
This brief seven-track LP ends just when it seems destined for a crescendo. “Bells For A Stranger” or “Portico: 2014” could easily soundtrack a love scene for a late-‘80s film starring Eric Stoltz with blustery curtains and close-ups of hands grabbing bed sheets. The latter track, in particular, demonstrates some lush orchestration and sweeping, melodic synth. But like the album as a whole, it all ends a bit early and leaves us wanting that last fist pump into the sky as the credits roll.
– James David Patrick (Twitter @30hertzrumble)
Since they first introduced Mogwai Young Team to the world, this band has made the listening experience in itself an art form. With droning synths, creepy crescendos, and heartbeat drum thumps, Mogwai’s eighth studio album, Rave Tapes, upholds their distinctive sound.
Our go-to, instrumental music Scotsmen prove that their sound can still be fluid with the times, but will never deter from true post-rock. After working on the creepy, ambient soundtrack of the French show Les Revenants, there are a lot of influences that could be found in Rave Tapes. There’s cinematic narrative to be found in songs like “Deesh” and the album’s first single “Remurdered”– they create suspense with dynamics moving from each end of the spectrum. Later into “Remurdered”, Barry Burns’ new synth kicks in at a heavier pace and one soon understands the ironic title of the album (they haven’t really gone electronic).
The beauty of tracks like “Hexon Bogon” and “Heard About You Last Night” could only have been made possible by the originality of the guitar riffs that uphold it. I mean, it’s also nothing without everything else, but what long-time Mogwai fans can all agree to nerd out about is definitely the power the guitar has to completely change the ambience and feel of a song. Expect no vocals until “Blues Hour”, a soft ballad that moves slowly from heartfelt piano melodies to guitar fuzz, and then back to piano. “The Lord Is Out Of Control” brings autotune vocals into the realm of steady paced rhythm. The dynamics formula is what makes Rave Tapes so intriguing, and is what ultimately keeps the listener hooked.
If you were looking for any samples, “Repelish” includes a spoken word dialogue from “a Christian radio talk show guy” according to Mogwai in an interview with Pop Matters. The sample rants on about pseudo-Satanic messages in Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” when played in reverse.
But one thing Mogwai can’t reverse is their long, successful journey as a band. They have a musical formula you can’t beat.
– Emily Rivas (Twitter @RivasEmily)
The long awaited, debut full-length album from Toronto's Loopity Goofs is LOADED with killer beats, sample and grooves. Gord Shields and Scott Atherton are the brains behind this groove ensemble and have been working their talents on the club scene as DJ’s and producers since 1998. The duo’s musical catalogue includes over 28 releases of remixes and original singles leading up to the release of Secret Gems Hidden Weapons. Loopity Goofs have built themselves a solid reputation on the house music scene and have toured all over North America, spinning sets from Toronto to Miami.
Tracks like “It Ain’t Eeasy” show that LG are at the forefront of the their musical genre and can push killer samples and melodies with wicked anticipation before dropping monster beats up in your face. “Falling” is another great example of the depth and diversity of the music on this album; this track incorporates Asian and Middle Eastern sounds along with dynamic percussion samples that drive the tune along ever so nicely. Digging deeper into the album, you’ll eventually come across the track “Most Respected”, a tune with a serious gangsta lean. The song features a famous one-liner from the movie Black Dynamite: “Gentlemen, every one of you are the most respected men in your region”. The tune is dark, perplexing, and somewhat unsettling, making it one of the best tracks on the album. There are no dull moments on this release.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
The Portland-based, doom metal band Ephemeros delivers All Hail Corrosion, a debut album marking the beginning of a descent into eternal madness. A short, three-track work of art including the title track “Stillborn Workhorse”, this album exerts an abysmal continuum of slow paced, tormented guitar riff propulsions and guttural vocals that stem from the most internal demonic dwellings of mankind. One should be prepared for a journey into a foreboding plane of darkened obscurity.
In essence, the album describes a desolate state of madness and despair, free of anything that resembles even a flicker of happiness. The third and final track, “Soilbringer”, embodies this realm of the damned; tortured wails pierce through the lumbering flow of constant despondency.
This album is like being caught in a violent maelstrom that drags you along with everything else into a spiraling pit of nothingness - in slow motion. It’s an inevitable end to all that is and once was, churning in wretched filth and insanity.
Fans of doom metal will enjoy this album and what it has to offer. I give this a four-star rating only because I wished it contained more than three tracks.
– Christopher Grant
In a few words, Flash Lightnin’s new album, For The Sinners, kicks mammoth ass. If you go back in time to the killer four on the floor stadium rock bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s, like AC/DC, ZZ-Top and Aerosmith, you'll find many similarities with the super catchy tunes that FL have served up on this amazing release. Core members Darren Glover and Darcy Yates have created their own addictive brand of fuzz rock that is bound to reach far beyond their local Toronto music venues.
With a career boost in mind, FL strategically commissioned the talents of renowned drummer and Canadian super producer Gavin Brown to get their unique sound out to the masses. With Brown lending his talents to the recording process and guiding the outcome of the release, it’s no wonder why the album is picking up so much momentum so quickly. The first single, “One Pill”, is currently getting plenty of radio attention north of the border, catching the attention of ZZ-Top front man Billy Gibbons. Gibbons invited the band to join them on their 2014 Canadian tour – something far beyond FL’s expectations. It seems obvious that the future is looking VERY bright for Flash Lightnin’.
Standout tracks include “Born With Money”, a super catchy jam with a deadly bass line and a guitar riff that’ll make you sweat. Glover and Yates lay down tasteful grooves and a stunning chorus. Following this amazing opener is the band’s second single “Dirty Penny”, a super funky tune that brings the sound of Big Sugar to mind. This song has a recommended volume preset of CRAZY LOUD! Next up, we have a strong ballad titled “Hard Feeling” – here’s a tune with sweet acoustic guitars and very tasteful vocals that give it the appropriately rustic Americana sound it needs. Finally, the big single “One Pill” is untouchable; it’s a monster tune with huge potential. This song would convince anyone that FL is the next big Canadian band to watch.
The only track I found a little too formulaic and somewhat flat was “Let’s Get High”. It didn’t stack up that well with the rest of the album’s incredible tunes. Overall, For The Sinners is an absolutely outstanding release from start to finish and is likely the REAL starting point for this band to becoming a household name.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
With several similarities between them, Doomsquad has been compared to the psychedelic-pop purveyors group Prince Rama. While both sibling groups have a habit for enhancing their narrative with everyday sounds and using their voices as an added instrument, there’s something subtly despondent brewing beneath the Blumas sisters’ breathy vocals.
Produced by Leon Taheny, whose credits include bands Austra and Dusted, Kalaboogie by Toronto/Montreal group Doomsquad is a difficult album to pin down in any concrete fashion. It’s an evocative, adhesive listen where tracks are assembled to flow seamlessly into one another. It’s a slice of nebulous new wave pulled from each corner of the globe as it explores the spiritual enlightenment of its world influences. Making industrial drones more inviting by draping them with delicate wind chimes, the album is like a score for a distorted mythical fable.
The indistinguishable bellows on “Disremember/Dismemberment” are reminiscent of ‘70s soul queens, but anchored by heavy and impenetrable electronica. Kalaboogie follows a set of influences only to tear them to shreds and fixate on a set of new ones a moment later. On the track “Head Spirit (For our Mechanical Time)”, lyrics are yelped over a darkly tropical baseline. There isn’t a single discernible line fit to sing along with, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t try to. An impressive track that never loses its earworming momentum with an insistent drumbeat give room for lush melodies to disappear, creating space for harsher ones to swirl into the track.
For all its abstract musings and ubiquitous song titles, Kalaboogie is built around its own notion of poptimism. From Trevor Blumas’ James Murphy-esque screeches, to transitions that gently ease the listener in (unlike other similarly branded artists that avoid memorable melodies) Doomsquad have a leg up on their conspirators. They’ve realized that the best way to pull outsiders into the psychosis is to slyly lure them in.
An earlier cover of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” indicates that Doomsquad might be more inspired by classic sounds than they care to let on. Maybe an unrecognizable, no wave Rumours cover album is still on the table.
– Melissa Vincent (Twitter @MellVincent)
Dine Alone Records
After nearly two years of endless recordings and dubbing, Noah Gundersen’s debut full-length album has finally come into fruition. Self-produced, raw and emotionally driven, Ledges is a wonderful showcase of the staggering talent Gundersen possesses. Gundersen has been gaining a slew of followers through social media and beyond since his first EP, Brand New World, was released in 2008. His gaining popularity was evident during this year’s highly anticipated North American tour, having several sold-out shows prior to the album’s debut. The tracks on Ledges are beautifully crafted, featuring Gundersen and his sister Abby’s layered vocals, acoustic melodies and brilliant violin interludes.
The traditional American folk influences are apparent in the compositions of several songs, echoing Bob Dylan’s gusto and Leonard Cohen’s harmonic expression. Biblical hymns and passages can also be found within the lyrics of songs such as, “Poor Man’s Son” and “Ledges”, as Gundersen playfully spins popular quotations on their head, “And I take a little too much / Without giving back / If blessed are the meek, then I’m cursed”.
The creative efforts off of Ledges will give young indie-darlings something to aspire to as they sing along to the addiction-driven song “Cigarettes”, and the heart-wrenching “Dying Now”. With Gundersen’s graceful delivery and each recording’s deliberate narrative arc, this album is sure to be heralded as one of the industry’s top debuts of 2014. Be certain to grab your tickets quickly, as Noah Gundersen’s Ledges tour is going to be one for the books.
– Ariel Dawn Lando (Twitter @ArielDawnLando)
This Hamilton, Ontario native caught my attention last September with the release of her slick, electrifying electro-R&B debut album Pull My Hair Back. Now Lanza has dropped a modcast mixtape for Modular, securing her creative intelligence and credibility as an artist.
The new mixtape, which features cuts from Tink, Shlohmo and Ty Dolla $ign, has the perfect blend of ‘90s dance elements, classic R&B hooks, hip-hop and electronic highs. The transitions from one section of the mixtape to the next are seamless and catchy.
If you are longing for an intriguing blend of classic hip-hop, electronic beats and R&B rhythms with a modern twist to jam along to, Lanza’s 34-minute mixtape should feed your appetite.
– Lindsay Becker (Twitter @LmBecks)
I have a half-baked theory that music occupies space in the world. The great music, the music that continuously rewards upon repeat listening and informs and deepens this crazy human existence of ours, occupies space. It becomes a tangible entity in the world, real matter comprised of particles and atoms and whatnot. Empty music, music that exists but does not change us, remains a vapid entity. It exists ephemerally for a brief moment and then departs.
Nicole Atkins’ music exploded in 2007 upon the release of her amazing full-length album Neptune City, a record that coined her self-proclaimed “pop-noir” sound. Listen to the track “Maybe Tonight” to get a taste of Atkins at the height of her powers. It’s a tremendously nostalgic track that recalls Loretta Lynn, Jenny Lewis and perhaps the pop vocals of the disco era (without all the extra disco ball hullabaloo). Her sound has undergone some renovation since then (as well as a couple of record labels and bandmates) exploring blues, ‘60s psychedelic and proggish rock. Her latest album, the crowd-funded Slow Phaser reflects these varied and eclectic tastes and tendencies with a more studied approach. Slow Phaser attempts to be permanent and weightless, pop and avant-garde, getting lost somewhere in the morass in between.
For better and worse, Slow Phaser feels like a record crafted with jukebox schizophrenia and accessibility in mind. The opening track, “Who Killed the Moonlight”, again recalls Loretta Lynn (her vocal style as it strays into her North Carolina roots will forever draw comparisons) but the musicality doesn’t deserve the complexity of her sultry, sexy, playful crooning. It ultimately underwhelms as it trends toward poptastic banality and confounding tempo shifts. The trend continues on “It’s Only Chemistry,” a saccharine sing-a-long that never really rises above the repetitive chorus. “Girl You Look Amazing” will surely find some crossover appeal through an immediately accessible and obsequious chorus – fans of the thematically related “Hey Girl” Ryan Gosling Internet meme will find much to like. But at the same time, Slow Phaser feels similarly like an Internet meme, a transient album without concrete matter.
Despite Atkins’ immense talent, Slow Phaser mucks about in various pop styles, crisp and weightless, without latching wholeheartedly onto the denser “noir” part that made Neptune City complex, relevant and occasionally intimidating. There are late-evening shadows of that early, raw and uncalculated brilliance on “We Wait Too Long,” and “Gasoline Bride,” songs that rise above the spit-polish. Here Atkins allows herself to cut loose, losing sight of the finely tuned, downscaled precision if only for a few too-fleeting moments. If there’s one song that represents the best of Atkins’ output on this album it might be “The Worst Hangover.” The boozy, blues guitar supports her voice and never placates with a saucy or repetitive hook.
Slow Phaser is an impossible record to dislike – Atkins’ bravado and originality could never be repressed – but it’s also a record that’s hard to wholly celebrate despite flourishes of greatness.
– James David Patrick (Twitter @30hertzrumble)
“What does a song hold? Was it love?” is the opening question posed on Carrier, the latest LP from San Francisco-based band The Dodos. This opening lyric sets the tone for the album –solemn, thoughtful and searching for answers.
Inspired by one-time guitarist Christopher Reimer, who joined the band for a brief time before his death in 2012, Carrier is clearly a way for remaining members Meric Long and Logan Kroeber to try and come to terms with their loss. Listening to the album, the audience can hear the band struggling with Reimer’s death and making sense of their loss through their music.
As such, the songs tend to be more minimalistic than ones found on previous albums like No Color or Time to Die. In particular, tracks like the opening “Transformer” and “Confidence” begin as deeply contemplative before picking up halfway through into more percussive sounds that fans of the band are more familiar with. However, these transitions feel almost unnatural, as the listener is jerked from one train of thought to another, led along by Long’s cosmic questions: “If I had something to complain about / If I took your place, would it hurt?”
Though the album falls short in comparison to earlier works, Carriers is clearly an important album for The Dodos. Full of sincere and obviously raw emotion, it’s definitely worth a listen.
– Alyson Shane (Twitter @alysonshane)
Live At Brixton is a punishing set of pure metal mayhem that only Mastodon can deliver. Having previously seen these guys live, I’m not at all surprised by their technical perfection. Mastodon was destined to be a powerhouse headliner and they prove it here at the Brixton stop of the 2012 tour for their The Hunter album. This live album has 24 tracks and delivers killer originals like “Crystal Skull”, “Capillarian Crest”, “Colony of Birchmen” and “Circle of Cysquatch”, keeping hardcore fans on their feet while loving every second of the concert. There is next to no banter between songs – they keep the punishment coming with no breaks. One of my favourite moments is during the intro of the final song “Creature Lives”; it’s a trippy, cinematic piece that reminds me of the intro to Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil album. It adds a much-needed break into the insane pace of the concert. In terms of its production, I found this release to be lacking in audio quality and would have liked to hear a more polished end product. There’s muddiness throughout the songs and I found that the vocals were not coming through that well at times. With that aside, this release comes highly recommended to any Mastodon fan out there.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Looking for a last-minute gift for the glam rock/new wave/adventurous music fan in your life? Check out New Music for Amnesiacs, the five-disc box set and accompanying hardcover book devoted to Sparks.
For over forty years, Los Angeles-born brothers Ron and Russell Mael have been making strange and wonderful music under the name Sparks. Their brief decampment to London in the era of Bowie made them bizarre teen idols – Russell with his incredible, operatic soprano and androgynous looks to match, and Ron with his seething stage presence and, shall we say, abbreviated mustache. Their early chart heyday granted them a devoted core audience and allowed them to collaborate with notable artists such as Giorgio Moroder, Jane Wiedlin and filmmaker Guy Maddin.
New Music for Amnesiacs serves as an autobiography of sorts of the Maels, chronicling their musical and artistic evolution. Over the span of five discs, the brothers take us from their earliest work as Halfnelson, through their years of ubiquity, and into their more adventurous periods. While not all their material works – “Little Girls” from their 1980 France-only release Terminal Jive brings the mix to a halt after the brilliance of the Number 1 in Heaven tracks – you can hear the band’s willingness to experiment and play with music.
Though New Music doesn’t include as much unreleased material as one would hope, it’s great to hear some of the harder-to-find tracks, such as their collaboration with French pop duo Les Rita Mitsouko and their early ‘90s single “National Crime Awareness Week”. The bonus disc includes the first official release of “Islington N1”, the song commemorating their series of concerts in London in 2007. Thanks to a sparkling (heh) remaster, the songs have never sounded better.
The accompanying hardcover book traces the artistic and commercial rises and falls of the Mael brothers and puts the material into a greater context. First editions of the set also include a wealth of extras that will make die-hard fans squeal, such as handwritten lyrics straight from the pen of Ronald Mael, reproduction contact sheets of the Maels’ portrait session with Richard Avedon, pinbacks, and tickets.
If you’re a fan of daring music from the past half-decade, Sparks is likely to be your favourite band’s favourite band. New Music for Amnesiacs represents a great point of departure for new fans and a must-have for longtime admirers.
– Chelsea Spear (Twitter @two_ontheaisle)
After a break-up lasting a few years, industrial metal band Ministry re-emerged with their latest album From Beer to Eternity, declaring itself the ultimate Ministry comeback. Front man Al Jourgensen’s harsh vocals and heavy guitar riffs contrast with the catchy drumming and groovy bass lines on the album. The unsettling intro entitled “Hail To His Majesty” contains what could be trance-inducing properties if it weren’t for the aggressive expulsions of profanity and bass drum kicks. The second track, “Punch in the Face”, stands true to its title as well as Ministry’s roots by delivering a fast-paced, anger-fueled discharge – a true moshing theme song. The heavy riffing is consistent through the entire song and feels no need to alter itself.
Each track can be labeled as stand-alone tracks, as they each have a different feel than the next. As with all other work crafted by Ministry, the album features various politically themed vocal samples. This is very noticeable in the track titled “The Horror” as an accentuation to the groovy drum and bass allocation. As soon as this low-end, mellow track finishes, the album picks up the pace with “Side FX Include Mikey’s Middle Finger”. This is a key track that really delivers a full on industrial infused metal assault equipped with extremely short yet intense guitar solos, which then climax with a series of sporadic auditory projections (leaving you slightly disturbed). The newly released single “PermaWar” does not seem to stand up to the intensity and craftsmanship that most of the other key tracks bring, but may be the first single because it’s more accessible to a broader audience.
In its entirety, the album presents itself as a comprehensive work of anarchical resonance. It’s an epic finale to the long tenure the band has established throughout their career.
– Christopher Grant