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Young_Empires Young Empires
The Gates
Pirates Blend Records

It’s been three years since its debut EP Wake All My Youth, and Young Empires returns to us with its anthemic electro-pop in a full-length album, The Gates. However, Young Empires’ experimental synth sound showcases something heavier and more rock.

The first three tracks start the album off strong:

“Mercy” and the first single off the album, “The Gates,” gradually rope you into something familiar, deep, and danceable. “So Cruel” is soulful and uplifting.

Young Empires steps away from its usual sound with something more melodic and a heavier chorus in “Ghosts.” The album continues to get heavier as it progresses. “Never Die Young” is the heaviest track with a headbanging chorus; overall it feels unnatural for the group.

The Gates is definitely a more eclectic album for Young Empires. The heavier “haute” rock certainly indicates a maturity of the band, but it also sounds a bit unnatural. Perhaps the large gap between their works hasn’t allowed fans to grow with them and it’s hard not to expect the lighter and more upbeat anthemic sounds of their EP three years ago.

– Raquel Dreesen (Twitter @raquelmaxine)



Jennifer_Castle Jennifer Castle
Pink City
Idée Fixe

Queen of her Castle!

This Canadian folk singer-songwriter based in Toronto returns with her second full-length studio release, Pink City. This 10-track gentle beauty represents a pomp of folk that Castle understands greatly and plays well. At 32 minutes in length, one would hope the quality of this album would be of a high calibre and after a careful listen to this cohesive release, Castle's vocal flutterings do not disappoint as Pink City represents a significant, positive step forward in her professional growth as a musical auteur. With Owen Pallett (of Arcade Fire fanfare) and Mike Smith providing the elegant string orchestrations throughout the album, they unshackle the release and move it from an earnest acoustic folk style into more diverse territory. 

Listeners cannot help but make comparisons to Joni Mitchell, as Castle channels Mitchell’s seductive, courting vocals on tracks like, well, all of them? Her meditative and fragile verses blend into the gorgeous instrumentals of flutes, violin, guitar and percussion. The album opens easily enough with "Truth is the Freshest Fruit" as we are served some delicious violin vibratos as Jennifer's guitar playing bounces along. We dovetail into "Working For The Man" as the violin once again engages the listener with its dulcet tones as the piano lingers. Castle's vocal range continues to impress with wobbling casualness in "Nature" to the vocal howling in "Broken Vase." "Sparta" invites an intriguing mention as it delves into the country genre but then brings in a flute? The fact the flute works is a great accomplishment on this track. "How or Why" is another interesting track, as we hear some sound effects mirroring Castle's sung lyrics. "Sailing Away" cannot be overlooked with its resplendent instrumentals, and "Like A Gun" has a radiant bluesy appeal. Castle's adept guitar playing throughout the album makes for a nice woven tapestry that ties the album together.

This finely crafted, gorgeous sophomore album is a pleasant surprise as it brings forth the history of folk music and entrenches its roots in the present with Castle's own modern troubadour, Canadian twist. This is an album that could inexplicably land in your lap through word of mouth, and bewitch you forever while becoming a precious belonging. Could her music encapsulate the aesthetics of a generation, new or old? Only time will tell. Hopefully these songs will become indelibly stamped on the minds of music lovers everywhere and more people will listen to this introspective muse as she continues to break new ground and Pink City's appreciation grows for ages to come.

Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



Painted_Palms Painted Palms
Polyvinyl Records

The San Fran cousins are back, with more instrumental layerings than you could shake a synth at!

Reese Donahue and Christopher Prudhomme are the architects of this 10-track release, having created the 39-minute debut LP Forever, just a few months ago. Through painstaking emailing, sending samples and music ideas back and forth to each other, the pair's second feature finally hit a studio to be realized. Horizons meanders through a veritable who's who of genres, judging by the strong ‘80's synth pop opening sound of "Refractor," to the very Depeche Mode-esque "Contact." The cousins' synth-heavy tracks ("Waterfall") are buoyed with competent "ahs and ohs" vocals as solid keyboarding chops abound ("Glaciers," “Echoes"). The unhurried "Gemini" sidesteps a gradual introduction buildup, jumping right into the lyrics from the beginning, in medias res-like with a great vocal hook. The kitschy ebb and flow of the vocals on "Control" harkens to McCartney's lyrical meditations flow over the instrumentals in "Tomorrow Never Knows" on The Beatles' Revolver album.

Reverbs and echoes inspire "Disintegrate" while the low keyboard playing reminds us that it's still the star of this show. The gratuitous, extended synth solo (sans lyrics) in "Painkiller" (2:04 - 3:47) definitely did not kill the pain of listening to this track as it's not clear why this was done for almost half the song. The final song "Tracers" was absorbing, as it advances Horizons' sound by not distinguishing itself from the rest of the album's similar synth / vocals pattern  / accomplishments. Despite that, it was still a good choice to end the album with.

In retrospect, after the second track, some may hope that there would have been more variety in the synth sound / lead vocals throughout the album; one can't help feeling that the tracks have the same wall of sound and instrumentals. The songs aren't bad; they're catchy, but the synth / keyboard / vocal melodic retreads form part of the standard recipe for every song on this album. That's when we start wondering: did this album have anything more to offer?

With certain tracks on this album, listeners can opine about how ‘80's synth pop is back, kicking ass and taking names. In the future, one would hope that Painted Palms will come through on their next release with a more balanced approach instead of putting all their synth sound eggs in one basket. Maybe that could be next on the horizon?

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



The_Acorn The Acorn
Vieux Loup
Paper Bag Records

An Ottawa boy who cried old wolf...

Rolf Klausener's indie folk band The Acorn is back with their first release since 2010, Vieux Loup (translated as "Old Wolf" for those of you who didn't grasp elementary core French classes). Klausener dug through three years’ worth of side projects to compile this enthralling eight-track album that adeptly delves into other non-experimental folk territory.

With a sharp focus on songwriting, singing and instrumentals, Klausener’s quiet touch creates a well-packaged group of songs that are dripping with alluring mystery. From the get-go, The Acorn's musical sound relaxingly traverses through the vast space of your mind as the climbing, hypnotic vocals mélange with the elegant guitar pluckings on the openers "Rapids" and "Palm Springs." The relaxation disappears for just a moment during "In Silence" as sudden drums wake you up from the coma-inducing vocals. In “Influence," he delicately balances the indie folk and electronic sound arrangements, which one could say echo the Canadian’s side project, Silkken Laumann. The selections on this release continue to take us to dizzying heights of euphoria as we listen to the titled track intro, which lets us eavesdrop on Klausener’s deep breath turning into tryst-laced lyrics. To bookend the album, the conclusion of  "Artefacts" goes into a fade, taking us into the dark musical abyss; a fitting end for the album.

With the latest incarnation of The Acorn, we have a tantalizing album that captures a momentary, deliberate, calming glimpse of musical determination. You can listen to these reverent arrangements as a whole as you fall back onto your bed, losing yourself in the mesmerizing rich vocals and the sustaining guitar fingering that exudes a beautiful confidence. The tracks will keep your mind engaged, whilst some of you look up at the moon through the window in your concrete jungle. Although this album isn't fast-paced and lacks a real sharp bite to the instrumentals, one could say this soft-sounding record is a wolf in sheep's clothing as it attacks you with its calming, hypnotic and folksy, electro sound.

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



Mr_Kitty Mr. Kitty
Negative Gain Productions

"The light to guide you through the darkness . . ."

Austin, Texas resident Forrest Avery Carney creates ambrosial synth-pop tracks under the guise of Mr. Kitty. With a litany of self-released material since 2008, Mr. Kitty has received many accolades as an "up and comer". This 10-track album shows us Mr. Kitty is no stranger to putting together a synth-pop track using a set formula with ethereal vocals, synths, and biting drum riffs. But it's this formula where one can hear the repetitiveness within the songs and wonder if Mr. Kitty will push through and break the rules to further develop some constructed key changes or some extended bridges. Will he expand on his electronic vocabulary by adding more noises and melodies to extend the instruments in the songs vertically, rather than horizontally, in track length?  

With effortless, uninhibited singing, Mr. Kitty leads listeners through a veritable electronic garden of delights. On tracks like "Shanghai," "In Your Blood," and "Flowers for Boys," there’s a solid partnership between the drum beats that interlock with soothing electric hooks. The nostalgic synth-pop atmosphere continues throughout the album on songs like "I Lost You," which could be compared to New Order's "Blue Monday." A vocal call-and-response motif is evident in "Entwine" as we hear an angelic female vocal soar over the bubbling synth lines. Feelings of Depeche Mode are evoked in "Mother," while Mr. Kitty's arousing, epic synth opening in "Hell" feels like we are being summoned to the gates of Hades himself. We end the album with the plodding "Cycle of Violence" and upbeat "Spirit of the Forest." These songs tend to not shift the Mr. Kitty synth-pop landscape greatly, but continue to encompass a variety of luminous emotions.    

With a polished, comfortable listen from start to finish, Mr. Kitty has some very clever pieces of minimalist fragments, but one could have a difficult time trying to piece them together to form the subtle audio narrative that he intended us to hear. This album is good nonetheless and synth-pop fans will enjoy seeing him evolve as he continues to push forward, precisely honing and crafting the Mr. Kitty sound with more instrumental sophistication.

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si· dent Mankey")



Bassnectar Bassnectar
Into The Sun
Amorphous Music

Bringing back the bass in Bassnectar!

Dubstep, like most genres, is an acquired taste, and can become repetitive with the usual "build up then bass drop" standard. Not so with American DJ Bassnectar (a.k.a. Lorin Ashton), as he unloads the bass all over your face in this welcomed seventeen-track release of old, new, and remixed tracks. With a wide variety of IDM (...intelligent dance music, but don't ever say that around Aphex Twin), Bassnectar goes into his bag of tricks and creates an enlightening, varied soundscape. We open with the first track "Chasing Heaven," as a soothing Gregorian-like chant opens the track till it crescendos to the drop. Bassnectar then takes us down memory lane of ‘80s video game soundtracks with the savory "Point Point - Double Oreo” (San Holo x Bassnectar Remix). As we continue to the upbeat "Speakerbox," featuring the wikkid vocals of Lafa Taylor, one can imagine this anthem track being played on any dance floor across the globe, while envisioning bottle service in the VIP section as people jam to this bass-killing track, putting their hands in the air with its rap vocal-charged stylings. RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT, indeed. The orgasmic ear candy continues with songs like "Sideways" feat. Zion I, and "The Mystery Spot." Shit gets real on these tracks as the adrenaline bass drops will make your nether regions grow wings and fly. Rounding off this mixtape (of sorts) are the cinematic "Rose Colored Bass" and "Generate." It is strongly recommended that you hug your speakers while listening, put your face right near them and FEEL. YOUR. FACE. MELT. Be one with the bass, sick and filthy. We end the compilation by happily channeling our inner Zelda on "Dorfex Bos" (Bassnectar Remix). Bassnectar gets the most out of his guest contributors on this euphoric release and one hopes these great choices will continue in the future. Bassnectar brings the bass power, energy, and hooks on this EP from beginning to end. Furthermore, the songs don’t seem like filler, as they don't feel dragged out.

For the bass heads that have been going through nectar withdrawal, this captivating compilation of old, new and remixed tracks can put you in a good mood on any day where you feel your music soul needs to be touched by something greater. This high energy album is a must listen to, whether you're "cabbaged" to maximize your in-music event experience or whether you're just a lover of hearing "the drop," where you lose yourself in your own imagination. Bassnectar brings an above-average effort on this album, through booming trap bangers fused with dubstep, and remixing old favourites as he shows us his impressive talent for mixing EDM genres. Listen to this album over and over again during an all night sesh with your friends until the coming of a new dawn; then lather, rinse, repeat. You won't get tired of these stimulating and pristine bass tracks.

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



Domino Records

Question: Could this album be a "Them Crooked Vultures" type collaborative moment that catches lightning in a bottle?

FFS is an interesting rock supergroup formed by Scottish rock group Franz Ferdinand and American rock band Sparks. These bands have actually worked together before over the last ten years or so, and the fruits of their labour are finally here for the musical masses to discover and digest. With their creative, acronymic band name aside (sarcasm duly noted), one can only hope the 12 songs on the album show more thought and inventiveness.

The album opens with a simple piano intro in "Johnny Delusional," signaling Alex Kapranos to slowly croon his lyrics, soon to be joined by Russell Mael's falsetto. After a nice hard guitar riff begins with an upbeat drumming tempo, the vocal harmonization calls up images of some ‘70s glam rock songs. A great start to the album.

The second song "Call Girl" has an interesting bouncy keyboard riff while the haunting word "call" is only repeated 20 times...I think we get the point: the character wants her to call. The vocals at 1:36 where he pleads, "It's me, it's me, it's me who always wants to meet," are a nice touch. A fantastic subtext of this song is that he's "waiting by the loading dock" for her, he's hocked all his stuff and even "gave up blow and Adderall" so he could spend money on her, and he's wondering why SHE doesn't call? Well, the clue is in the title of the song: she's a CALL GIRL. Poor sap. Brilliant.

The refrain in "Dictator's Son" sings like a creepy children’s lullaby, and the blaring horns are a bit too much. Around the 2:40 mark, the bridge comes out of nowhere, disjointing the song. However, the vocals are interesting as they really hit some high falsetto notes.

The fourth track, "Little Guy from the Suburbs," plays out like a funeral procession, and is just as miserable. Not much going on there.

"Police Encounters" has an epic opening with the drums. The beat picks up with the vocals seeming to gain more traction as the song progresses. Special note goes to the lyrics:

"Bomp bom diddy diddy
Bomp bom diddy diddy
Bomp bom diddy
Police encounters"


The sixth track, "Save Me from Myself," again has the sound of an epic, glam rock song. But wait, didn't we cover that in track one? Meh. The bridge at 1:55 was nice, yet a raging guitar solo may have given it longer legs to stand on.

"So Desu Ne" is an instrumentally quirky track with the quirky imagery in the lyrics. Odd.

It’s unclear what they were trying to do with "The Man Without a Tan," vocally and instrumentally; it’s got odd parts here and there, like the orchestral soundbite that comes out of nowhere at the 54-second mark.

The last two tracks have heavily ironic titles:

"Collaborations Don't Work" has some nice harmonization and instrumentals. The orchestral instruments go full out (as their use has been slowly building up to this point). Too bad the lyrics let down the song with its repetitive "collaborations don't work" mantra, ad nauseam. At the four-minute mark it plays out like a Phantom of the Opera scene with an actor soliloquizing to an audience. The tone suddenly changes at 4:44, as the song turns to the bass/piano/acoustic guitar combo, which morphs the song into a Supergrass’ "What Went Wrong (In Your Head)”-like melody. This song IS messing with my head. It's all over the place like “Revolution 9.” The title of the song again gives us a clue; with all this distracting stuff in the song, is it the POINT that it doesn't work, that these collaborations within the song don't work? If so, that's a pretty shitty joke to play on the listener, FSS.

We finally come to "Piss Off," and the familiar high notes of Kapranos are still reverberating with the same heavy guitar. Ironically, the lyrics "get to the point" echo my thoughts exactly. This isn’t a strong track to end with.

So, to answer the original question: this ain't no Them Crooked Vultures, but the powerful union of FFS can definitely hold their own with a distinct sound to whet the palette of music listeners.

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



Beborn_Beton Beborn Beton
A Worthy Compensation
Dependent Records

Fans of Beborn Beton, unite!

After a 15-year hiatus, the German synth-pop trio of Stefan Tillmann, Michael Wagner and Stefan Netschio are back with this 10-track album! With synthesizers and droning at full blast, this confident, inspired production reestablishes their continued legacy that has spanned a few decades.

From the opening track "Daisy Cutter," the enchanting synth sounds hook you in and mesmerize you, creating a veritable, opulent soundscape. The careful orchestration of sound teems with maturity in "I Believe," as this lyrically romantic song opens with a drumbeat (which ironically sounds like a heartbeat) while introducing layer upon layer of synth textures. With Netschio's trademark vocals, he accentuates the tracks "She Cried" and "Terribly Wrong" with a soothing gravitas that gives the melodies a sense of controlled restraint. Wagner and Tillman establish ravenous synth lines and adept electronic instrumentals on tracks like "Anorexic World," "She Cried," and "Was Immer," which is a great groove bursting with interesting electronic sounds. Make sure you have your translator app for this one if you don't know German. Du Hast! The absorbing synth emanations on this track have a wonderful emotional balance, alternating from dark brooding to happy while lyrically juxtaposing the question: is the world a good place or not? Watch out for the interesting ending here on instrumentals. We close the album with "Who Watches The Watchmen" with the repeated mantra "It won't be me." Netschio shows his vocal range here going from lower to higher registers as dubstep-like electronic reverbs bounce off his lucid tones. The intriguing tracks on this album average about 4:25 or longer, which gives us the impression that Beborn Beton did not suffer from a lack of inspiration on this release. And they did not, as this cascading release reminds us again how great this trio is. 

Waiting this long in the mahogany darkness for a Beborn Beton album is a Herculean task, but the German lads have given us a worthy compensation in the form of this entangling synth-pop release. The band has created an engaging EDM beat with a panorama of electronic sounds to reward our long-awaiting, salivating ears.

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



Nirvana Nirvana
Universal Music

Nevermind the Bleach In Utero, Nirvana!

And here it is, Nirvana's 2002 posthumous self-titled collection that was swimming in legal troubles, parties fighting with each other, and further distractions. This interesting collection of tracks include "You Know You're Right," which was recorded during Nirvana's last ever studio session and just before Kurt Cobain's death. Dave Grohl's killer drum chops highlight the song with Cobain's primal vocals, resonating levels of anguish and fury. But we wonder, should this have been the first song, or the last song on the release? The album storms onward with the two-chord blueprint of "About A Girl" to the cranking four-chord guitar onslaught of the rowdy "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Later, the religious/suicidal "Lithium" parallels the soft-to-loud template of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The contrasting verses and chorus give a dynamic complexity to these songs. Krist Novoselic’s smooth bass riffs highlight the more upbeat “Been A Son.” It still resonates relevancy to this day with its lyrics dripping towards an argument against sexism.

The underrated melodic structure of  "Sliver" talks of parent desertion, as Dan Peters takes the drums. Trivia-wise, this song was an inspiration for Weezer's "Heart Songs." The track "Come As You Are" is filled with "I am the Walrus"-like confusion with contradictory and confusing lyrics. Furthermore, Nirvana evaded being sued for this song, even though they’ve admitted that the opening chords were a slowed-down version of Killing Joke's 1985 song "Eighties." To add to the hilarity, Killing Joke ripped their opening chords from The Damned’s "Life Goes On" (1982). The instrumentals are at the forefront again with Grohl's high-energy drum assault on "In Bloom," which leads into the haunting, depression-laced "Penny Royal Tea." Throughout this album, Cobain's versatile vocals, dripping with angst, are hauntingly jaded as his prose hits a varied spectrum of drugs, nihilism, tarnished relationships, the alienation of youth, depression, female body parts, and more, giving the listeners a cornucopia of downtrodden emotions that can represent a wide variety of generations. "Heart-Shaped Box” shows the ominous power of Cobain's imagery (a clinging sadness for children stricken with cancer) as we hear him drawl, "I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black." Just stunning. "Rape Me" continues the surreal imagery as one might misinterpret the title of this song, which really expresses empowerment. Cobain ponders whether the glass is half full or half empty in the "Lithium"-like paced "Dumb," as the exquisite cello is again heard gracing a Nirvana song. The album ends with "All Apologies" and a cover of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" from Nirvana's Unplugged in New York. The sweet cello once again rears its mellifluous head in "All Apologies" and demonstrates an elegance of continued progressivism for the band, which may have taken some fans aback, but was welcoming.

Not only is this Seattle band's name uber ironic (and iconic), but Nirvana's self-titled album is a power chord grunge rock classic the band should be satisfied with. It's quite impressive that having only made three in-studio albums in their short seven-year "blink of an eye" existence, that the trio of Cobain, Grohl, and Novoselic did in fact catch "lightning in a bottle" and became one of the most influential, seminal alternative rock / indie bands in modern history, whose impact clearly shows no immediate end.

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



Iglomat Iglomat
Iglomat III
KFM Records

David Jack is back for Number three!

The Scotlander known as David Jack is a DJ, producer and composer whose cross-continental recording project, Iglomat, throws out its 10-track release. This instrumental, post rock / electronica offering is a collaboration created through landlines and hard drives; not an easy task.

There are few words in their songs, as Iglomat tries to make their melodic statement through instrumentals. The slower-paced nature of some recordings and distorted instrumentals, and certain added verbal sound bites, give this album a familiar yet subtle Mogwai-like feel, without the lengthy time-track extensions. Teaming up with Jennifer Austin and Rachel Sermanni, the tracks emanate a certain foreboding as the calming vocals and keyboard sounds dance across a musical stage. Adding the enthusiastic vocals of a seven-year-old child (à la Noah Macdonald) on the track "Elgato Elgato" makes for an interesting choice, which might take some listeners unaware. Audiophiles should prepare themselves for some odd moments throughout the album in the form of instrumental passages and sound bites.

With keyboard-like elegance and soft guitar-like grace, Iglomat shows us their emotional depth with tracks such as "The Kelpies," "No Place Like Home," "My God It's Full of Stars," and "Wood Hall." But does this album have a clear, identifiable, yet exciting sound?  There are no heavy tracks on this album, although the guitar in "Tic Tac Toe" tries to have a harder sound through the keyboard's higher pitched, soaring notes. The album plays out like ambient simmering on low heat, and doesn't feel like it comes to a boil.

With its James Joyce-like "trippy" musical stream of consciousness, this middling release could be difficult for some to get into or understand (should we?) as it tries to find its identity. Having been compared with the likes of Goblin (a famous ‘70's Italian progressive rock band that does soundtracks) you can hear the influences and make instrumental parallels in the work on this album. Iglomat paints an interesting canvas with a multitude of instrumental textures and sound layers that need more than a general listening to from a discerning ear. The question left hanging is, will they get that time?

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



Hooton_Tennis_Club Hooton Tennis Club
Highest Point In Cliff Town
Heavenly Recordings

Does Hooton Tennis Club serve an 'ace'? 

This fast-tracking, four-piece, poppy garage band from Chester, England are the toast of the town this past year, having gone from university studies to being signed by Heavenly Recordings in less than six months. If their band name (from a road sign for some tennis courts in Little Sutton) doesn't tickle your fancy, then it'll be their youthful energy that will make you want to listen to this 12-track album's chops. Initially through this release, if you think their guitar playing or vocals aren't polished, then you'd be right, and that's the point, as the band believes in the unpolished rawness of doing things in their own way without a perfectly engineered sound. They don't want to be perfect, as no one should expect a freshman album to be. But that doesn't mean their lo- fi sound falls short. Their music is earmarked by frontman Ryan Murphy's slow woodburning (at times), hypnotic vocals (with a few "whooos" along the way), as he adds a calming element to the songs. Guitarist James Madden's lo-fi ascending/descending hazy, fuzzy sound mingles nicely with Harry Chalmer's steady drumming. Callum McFadden's adept bass playing rounds out the quartet's infectious, upbeat, musical charm.

With pop-like toe tapping, carefree anthem songs like "Kathleen Sat On The Arm of her Favourite Chair," "Something Much Quicker Than Anyone But Jennifer Could Ever Imagine," and "Jasper," Hooton Tennis Club litters their album with some carefully crafted casual tunes that show a straightforward melodic sensibility that is deserving of praise.

Coming from a wide variety of music genres that have historically entrenched Liverpool's music scene, Hooton Tennis Club didn't take a lot of risks instrumentally and vocally on this release, but having been inspired by Guided by Voices, the final product is definitely a game, set and match in the win column. Whether they have the consistency to evolve their casual pop sound into something more will be fun to watch in the upcoming years. Until then, enjoy this solid effort as it sits comfortably in your playlist.

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



Banditos Banditos
Bloodshot Records

Banditos' first ride is a good one!

Much heaping of praise is deserved for this 12-track album, as the raw wall of sound is centre stage for this high-flying, blues rockin' Birmingham, Alabama sextet. Currently working out of Nashville, Banditos' debut album brings a high energy, gritty sound with their alt country twang  / rock. With a lack of "in your face" subtlety, they kick your teeth in with wave after wave of nonstop honky tonk, southern country fancy. An impressive offering of tunes allows one to imagine they truly are inside a rowdy dive bar, listening to the jagged, fleshy tones of vocal wailing, slide guitars, banjos, and slamming piano keys.

Top notch tracks like "Waitin’" and "Golden Grease," to the jazz-like "Ain't It Hard" are gratifying earworms. You'll fall in love with the variety of throwback track creations, as there's nothing restrained about this album. There's a lot to digest in regard to the use of instruments on these tracks, but it keeps one's mind engaged and interested. The album goes full throttle from beginning to end, led by Mary Beth Richardson's wailing (which hits its orgasmic peak during the slow-burning "No Good") to Stephen Alan Pierce II's playful banjo plucking. Corey Parsons isn't left out as he follows through with his own distinct "rough around the edges" vocals throughout the album. Bassist Jeffery Daniel Vines and drummer Randy Wade complete the frisky sound with an efficient and spirited effort that doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. The ferocious instruments rage with exciting banjo and Jeffrey David Salter's guitar playing, adding layers and textures to enhance each track’s mood. The guitar and piano reach a phenomenal, dizzying pitch during "Cry Baby Cry" (not to be confused with The Beatles' song), as the higher keys on the piano are will used for this track.

Banditos' respect for country's past shines through on their self-titled debut, as they take you down an all-out jammin' road to hell and back, while smiling all the way. They even made time to sneak in some kazoo playing during "Long Gone, Anyway." Enjoy the ride folks, as the overall arc of this album manages to make a bold statement and should not be missed by twang fans. Banditos gives you a taste of confident country music; these hearty songs will fill you up and make you want more.

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



Barenaked_Ladies Barenaked Ladies
Warner Music Canada

The Scarborough, Ontario pop veterans dig deep from the well again!

Watching the Barenaked Ladies spitting out albums consistently since 1992 (but no Junos since 2009) is like watching 19 kids and Counting while thinking, "when are they going to be done?" After listening to their latest release with original material, clearly the Ladies aren’t done making music just yet. 

Upon first glance of the pinball machine album cover, one cannot help but soak in the retro feel as the Barenaked Ladies title is in a 1970's Solid Gold-esque font, while a shadowy figure is reflected in the pinball. Apparently this cover was created to parallel lead singer Ed Robertson's interest in pinball machines, as he started collecting them in 2010.  This musical project sits at a comfortable 13 tracks, with most of them being under 3 1/2 minutes; not too daunting a task to listen to.

With the band moving in a logical, forward progression in their last few albums without former lead singer Steven Page (and having more than enough time to gel and grow as a creative unit), you’d think the band's sound would be more inventive. Long-time fans might get the impression this current lineup could benefit from another look at the direction of their musical pathway. There is a lack of diversity in the tracks, as they follow the similar formula of standard drum beats, synth, guitar, and piano, along with Robertson’s warbly rap-singing rhythms (although he does actually sing a lot more on these tracks). Credit must be given to the band’s vocal gamesmanship as Robertson and Hearn take turns with leads on some tracks. After listening to the album, it feels like some of these songs just sit there and stare at you, as you wait for more to happen. "Get Back Up" is a solid start to the album, albeit with slightly depressing opening lyrics, "I'm a little bit worse for wear, got a little bit more grey hair . . ." but does a quick 180 and turns into a nice pop song with positive lyrics. You might be thrown off by short piano dissident sound bites. "Here Before" gets you pumped with their "we will rock you" riff, as the heavy guitar slides in with Robertson "singing" his lyrics, which, at times, seems laborious in his higher register. The lyrics of "Matter of Time" have been interpreted on the interwebs as secretly being about former lead singer Page. "Duct Tape Heart" shows off a kickin' instrumental intro and a solid song that caters to Robertson’s style of singing. He bats two for two on the next track with "Say What You Want" as his distinct vocal style shines through. He passes the torch to Kevin Hearn's vocals in the playful "Passcode," a “Lounge Act”-like song with Perry White on saxophone! Other notable tracks are "Hold My Hand" (nice instrumentals), "Narrow Streets,” (shoutout to Dundas and Queen!), "Piece of Cake" (ABBA-like intro, picks up around the 1:50 mark culminating in a great guitar solo), and "Toe to Toe” (a great ballad). The album title song is another laidback track that doesn’t differentiate from Silverball’s other songs and feels expected.

Silverball continues along a Barenaked Ladies path that embodies a safe, middle-of-the-range tempo album. For Barenaked Ladies virgins, it's not a bad listen. But for long-time fans, this album isn't shaking up any existing boundaries, and it doesn't seem to have the high-energy, really biting, witty, humorous lyrics we’ve seen in their previous catalogue of albums. The current incarnation of the band hasn’t made a departure from their closeknit harmonies or pop song sensibilities but with the addition of their synth tendencies, there are still some solid songs on here to appease even their hardcore fans and music fans alike.

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



The_Noble_Thiefs The Noble Thiefs
It's Tough To Be The Bad Guy
Pipe & Hat/MapleMusic Recordings

Soul stealing . . . out of Winnipeg!

Plural misspelling aside (and not the first time they've heard that one), this ambitious four-piece soul/rock band consists of frontman Myron Dean, Riley Hastings (guitar), Ian Lodewyks (Bass), and new-ish Joel Armstrong (drums) who hail from Winnipeg.

We are introduced to Dean’s coarse, smoky vocals as a powerful tool on this nine-track album, as he instinctually knows when to crank it up and when to dial it down. This sense of control adds to the intoxicating melodic layers of each track, while his notes bathe the instrumentals with a delicate composition. The instrumental rhythms match up perfectly on high-energy tracks like "Since '86" and "How Can You Think Of Love," (with nah nah nahs vocals), along with the kickin' guitar  and bass. The high energy continues on "Give 'em Hell" then contrasts to the slower, ballad-like "I Died in America" as the guitars cry along with Dean’s heartfelt singing. Moving on to "When You're in Love," you'll love the ringing soul infusions while "Made of Stone" shows some unrestrained guitar and drum work as the call and response "oh oh oh oh"s echo throughout the song. "Rise Up" can be seen as an "anthem done before" of sorts as you should "never let them get you down." The calm, faded ending is a nice touch. The Noble Thiefs show off their vocal harmonization in "Tread Lightly," which brings the album to a glowing resolution. All these songs are very catchy and make for a strong album from beginning to end.

This collection reverberates with a peculiar energy and spirit, as it shows us what a collective can do with just a handful of instrumental ideas. Even though The Noble Thiefs' sound is entrenched in music's past, their songs exercise a desire to live and entertain in the present moment. Each track arrangement burns with stylish grit that lingers in your ear. The slow buildups on some of these tracks show a mature command and understanding of musical tension while creating some gripping and addictive hooks/riffs.

Touring across Canada, the band is basking in the glow of its moderate success. Their good-natured humour is best seen on their twitter account where they tweet:

"We come here to steal not your purse or wallet but the beat of a heart."

And they're right; it's tough to be a bad guy when you're stealing listeners' hearts through the creamy rooted euphoria of a soulcentric, retro brand of rock revivalism.

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")



Uncle_Acid_And_The_Deadbeats Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats
The Night Creeper
Rise Above Records

With Uncle Acid’s 4th full length release set to disturb the masses, Night Creeper assaults your psyche with doom and fury, peaks and valleys and bloody undertones that will lead to your inevitable demise. Opening the show is a crushing track titled "Waiting For Blood", a mid-tempo anthem that grooves with unsettling riffs and a vocal take that will burn a place in your soul and haunt you when you least expect it. Halfway through the song, we get a guitar solo that is truly mesmerizing and book-ended with vintage Randy Rhodes style runs, something I wasn’t aware was in Uncle Acid’s bag of tricks.

As we move through the tracks, the third offering titled "Downtown" really stands out from the pack; it’s a track that paints a vivid picture of a Jack The Ripper type character, the most famous night creeper of all. The track fully embodies the word doom; it has freighting riffs that will convince you there is NO way out of the story for the antagonists. Lyrics such as 'so many losers in dark alley dives, so many lovers in violent romance, so many others with no chance' certainly makes you hope this night creeper won’t be paying you a visit anytime soon.

The undisputed winner for the catchiest riff comes on the sixth track titled "Melody Lane", this song is incredible in all aspects, the main riff is an ascending doomy arrangement that is mirrored by the vocals when the verse kicks in. "Melody Lane" simply resonates in your head for days after its first listen.

As we reach the last two songs of the album we get "Slow Death" which is certainly a highlight, it has hints of the Doors’ stoner hit "Riders On The Storm" with sounds of heavy rain in the background and unsettling lyrics. This song is the start of the journey’s end of the victim’s life. The final chapter is a hidden track called "Black Motorcade" which is an extension of "Slow Death" as it too has the stormy backdrop and holds then ambient doom feel until it’s lights out.

For fans of Uncle Acid, this album is a must and for others looking for the next great thing in doom metal, this is it.

– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)

Muse Muse
Warner Brothers Records/Helium-3

Fans of The Resistance, rejoice. For it is the same gritty, full sound of that album that one can expect from Drones. Even the theme of war is similar. If Muse's goal was to return to their roots with this album, their goal was certainly achieved.

Listening to the album in order from beginning to end, it’s clear Muse has managed to craft a rich narrative about war and its negative characteristics in an amazingly seamless way. In true Muse fashion, the album is not just a work of art, but a bold statement that is heard loud and clear – both in the musical and political senses.

While the album serves to depict the mindlessness of modern warfare, it is not a record that should be listened to mindlessly. The integration of the signature Muse guitar, bass, and drums – heavy music – is as strong and defined as ever. And while trying to use their lyrics to convince their listeners of the downsides of war might be a bit ambitious, there's no doubt that this collection of tracks will allow you to both think and feel.

– Maya Koparkar (Twitter @mkoparks)


Glitch_Mob Glitch Mob
Piece Of The Indestructible
Glass Air Records

With their new EP Piece of the Indestructible, The Glitch Mob has taken a route that is quite different from today's prototypical EDM artists in the industry. Forgoing strong bass and powerful drops, they have instead decided to retain a consistent, pulsating sound that is present in each track. This behaviour is not out of the ordinary for them; they haven't done anything particularly new or experimental with the sound they are working with on these latest tracks, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Glitch Mob seems to know what their sound is and retains a sort of comfort and stability through producing music that is in exactly their preferred style.

The whole EP, when listened to all the way through, will take you on a journey, providing an incredibly holistic experience. While two out of the three tracks on the EP are slightly more downtempo than the first – and arguably most infectious – track, “Head Full of Shadows,” all three do seem to work together well.

While their take on electronic music may not be for everyone, this doesn't seem to be a problem for them. Much like the group themselves, their fans expect this kind of sound and consistency from them, and that particular sound and consistency is dependably delivered on Piece of the Indestructible.

– Maya Koparkar (Twitter @mkoparks)


Limblifter Limblifter
Pacific Milk
We Are Busy Bodies

Limblifter is back and rousing nostalgia for old fans of the Vancouver indie rock band.

Having first heard the heavy guitar songs "Screwed it Up" and "Tinfoil" off their self-titled debut album in 1996 (as a bright-eyed, second-year university student), I was skeptical whether Limblifter had any more songs in them for a sophomore album. After waiting five years for Bellaclava to come out, I did enjoy the ethereal, feel good summertime-like "Wake up to the Sun." Recently, I came across their acoustic version of "Wake up to the Sun" and fell in love with them all over again.

Now, 11 years after their previous album I/O, and off the re-release of their first album, Limblifter comes out with their fourth album, Pacific Milk. I was excited to see whether they could charm me with their "indie rock" tendencies once again; I tried to be as objective as possible and put my Limblifter fanboy heart aside.

Looking at the cover of Pacific Milk, I'm digging the kitschy look with the old stereo system and pottery. Eerily, this reminds me of my parents’ basement in the 1970s, with orange shag carpeting. Looking at the track listings with 12 of 13 tracks being under 3 1/2 minutes, you’d wonder if they were going for short term quality rather than more drawn out, lengthier tunes of largesse.  

"Cast a Net" is a welcome intro to the album with its upbeat, catchy guitar intro and singer and guitarist Ryan Dahle's falsetto hook. It brings to mind a solitary cowboy figure galloping towards a gun-slinging fight. As we spill over into the second song, “Dopamine,” the guitar and bass opening is reminiscent of a long-lost Franz Ferdinand song, just waiting to be heard. Toward the middle of the album, the vocals for "Under the Riot" are a bit Regine Chassagne-esque. Which then brings us to the short, 46 seconds of "I Deleted You." It would have been epic if this vignette was played by an orchestral wall of sound with violins and cellos instead of the synths. Unplugged, anyone? The track "Suspended" is a happy, upbeat song that seems to repeat melodically and doesn't quite go anywhere. "The Fauves" has a nice call and response feel as the vocals of Dahle and Bradfield play off each other nicely, while the drumming and the bass march the song along. We end with the longest song on the album at 4:20 (enter gratuitous cannabis joke here), "Juliet Club," with the synths at the forefront (again) in the intro. They continue in the background throughout the song as Dahle's chromatic storytelling vocals lead us on a relaxing journey while the bass playing picks up to add a somber tone to the song.

If you're looking for something with a higher level of instrumental complexity and thought-provoking lyrics, this may not be your album; but with catchy guitar riffs and foot-tapping, steady drumming, Pacific Milk is an interesting listen. The tracks play with a relaxing light-heartedness in both vocals and instrumentals, while the sound of their previous 1996 heavy, guitar-riffing "Tinfoil" has become a distant, faded memory. In the end, with the synths and Dahle’s distorted vocalizing, this album is a departure from the 90's Canadian alt nostalgia, which is a good thing. It’s great when music artists experiment and try new things while not getting comfortable with their "signature sound" that gained them mainstream notoriety. Pacific Milk is Limblifter's attempt to reinvent the band's sound, and it's a commendable effort, even though most of the songs have similar instrumentals and not a varying, wide range of melodies from vocals or guitar. Some tracks are short but that was the album's strength as it keeps interest throughout, which is difficult to do with the 21st-century listeners' short attention spans.

Dahle himself has said that working with Hawksley Workman and Hot Hot Heat's Steve Bays as part of The Mounties (2013) helped re-energize his creative juices in bringing back a Limblifter album. If that's the case, then I'm all for Dahle being in other bands if the outcome is a continued, solid selection of Limblifter songs in 2015 and beyond for us longtime fans and newcomers. And almost 20 years after Limblifter's self-titled debut came out, Dahle can still write songs that keep you interested.

– Chris X (aka: the "Dis·si·dent Mankey")


Will_Currie_And_The_Country_French Will Currie And The Country French
They Killed Us

Will Currie and the Country French are back, proving that jazz is still very much alive in 2015. In an era of pop music, their sophomore album, They Killed Us, is a combination of jazz and roots music. This talented musician is a native of Waterloo, Ontario, giving Canadians yet another reason to be proud!

Currie definitely invoked his inner Paul McCartney for the album titled track “They Killed Us,” a song very skillfully put together. While the rhythm is fun and lighthearted, the lyrics are packed with references and metaphors, giving you something to think about. It’s more than just the cool song you heard on the radio. The lyrical content is masterfully delivered in such a way that it gives you the perfect balance of edutainment, with catchy melodies and short but sweet songs that are intertwined with many hidden messages throughout the entire album.

“They Killed Us” takes you back to a time when music was good and wholesome and artists took the time to make sure each song had a meaning and served a purpose on the album. Another great track is “Mothers’ Got a New Son,” the perfect song for newlyweds. Filled with intricate harmonies and an up-tempo rhythm that makes your hips swing; you can’t help but dance! “They Killed Us” was released in North America June 9, 2015 so be sure to pick up your copy ASAP!

– Stephanie


Moondog_Matinee Moondog Matinee
Carry Me, Rosie

Moondog Matinee is the epitome of blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Their forthcoming sophomore album, Carry me, Rosie, set to be released this summer, is an explosive fusion of drums, electric guitar, and powerhouse vocals. Carry me, Rosie embodies the true essence of rock music and is definitely something to look forward to for the summer. This album will make you feel melancholy, like a musical time machine nostalgically taking you back into the 1950s. If you have ever been walking down the street, envisioning the perfect soundtrack of your life in your head, well look no further, this is it!

“Last Night the Devil Learned My Name” sounds like a song straight out of the classic American crime movie “Thelma and Louise” just as they’re making a break for the border. With the lead singer’s raw and rugged vocals defining blues, backed by a talented band of musicians hitting every note right on the head, you can’t help but join in and play along air band style. “Ghost Dime,” as the title predicts, is an eerily haunting track and the perfect karaoke/bar song. With powerful vocals to belt along to with your buddies, the inner rock star in you is sure to come out! Overall if you’re in a rebellious mood and looking for an album to listen to from front to back this summer, Carry me, Rosie is the album for you!

– Stephanie

Warm_Soda Warm Soda
Symbolic Dream
Castle Face Records

Warm Soda frontman Matthew Melton crafts tidy songs about summer. Actual lyrics be damned – the words themselves deemed irrelevant by the vibes, man. Warm Soda spins quick and catchy ditties meant to envelop you in a feel-good haze. An ice bucket filled with flavorless beers, a vague distant smell of charred meat, human flesh rotting underneath the hazardous rays of the sun. General bliss. Nostalgia for summers best viewed through the fogged goggles of time and distance.

I listened to Symbolic Dream. That feel-good vibe enveloped me. I listened to Symbolic Dream again, a third time. or did I? Had the album cycled around again? Was this the end or beginning? Was there any difference? I couldn’t tell when one song ended and another began. I gave the music my full and undivided attention, sensory deprivation, aka staring at the progress bar while the songs played. Here’s the ugly downside of focus. To listen to Warm Soda’s third full-length album as I would to a record that’s really hooked me, that’s engaged me on a visceral/emotional/intellectual level, revealed Symbolic Dream’s true identity: a one-note, rarely inspired exercise in monotony. The same wistful, wanting mid-tempo balladry foregrounding a rote set of drum cadences and sun-kissed guitar riffs in the name of aloof doo-wop-laced simplicity.

That said, let’s scale back on the harshness for just a second. In isolated bits and bites, Warm Soda’s tracks elicit the intended response. Easy rocking for a hipper sect. The album begins with “I Wanna Know Her,” a mélange of memories from that indistinct summer of 2004, a nostalgia trip with Melton’s angsty, velvety vocals. At not even two minutes long, there’s a want for more, but not just more, there’s a want for growth and expansion of these ideas. “Crying For a Love,” “I Wanna Go Fast,” “Can’t Erase This Feeling” – the rest of the tracks fall in line, avoiding crescendos and drama that might awake us from our waking slumber. Once you reach the end, however, “Lemonade Lullaby” slams on the breaks, turns up the distortion and recalls Marty McFly’s pre-rocking songs at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. This is the greatest tonal shift on the album.

Symbolic Dream reminds me of a concept album, some sort of Warhol-brand experiment that hypothesizes the listener will sit through an entire record without recognizing that all the tracks are exactly the same. Click through the track list, select any random moment; it’ll sound just like that last. Out of context, excised from the record any individual track offers a fleeting moment of utility. But don’t let those moments delude you. This is a record with one rock solid, time-tested idea played on a loop. This is the soundtrack of summer, played in the background when nobody’s really paying attention.

– James David Patrick (Twitter @30hertzrumble)

Band Website: warmsoda.org
Label Website: castlefacerecords.com



Lindi_Ortega Lindi Ortega
Faded Gloryville
Last Gang Records

It looks like August promises to be a scorcher, and certainly the best month of the whole summer. It promises to be glorious because our very own Canadian Tin Star, Miss Lindi Ortega, is treating the world to a whole new set of songs in Faded Gloryville, her fourth studio release, on Last Gang Records.

The songs and performances feel very organic and rich. They’re the fruit of a long musical journey filled with constant touring, joy, humour, a dash of Johnny Cash, and of course plenty of broken hearts.

The album was recorded in three separate sessions with several talented and recognized producers like Dave Cobb (Shooter Jennings), Colin Linden (T Bone Burnett), Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes), and John Paul White (The Civil Wars). Together through all the individual sessions, although very different in vision and direction, they managed to capture Ortega’s hauntingly beautiful voice and organic strength, which truly flourishes in her live performances.

She is gaining great support and momentum since Little Red Boots and Cigarettes & Truckstops. Her third release, Tin Star, won her the Canadian Country Music Award for Roots Artist of the Year. There’s no telling what Faded Gloryville will bring, but those who have taken the time to examine her soulful lyrics or listen and read an interview, know that it’s not about the accolades, it’s about a soulful young woman expressing herself through song, hoping that others find a little piece of themselves in the art she so painstakingly creates.

Faded Gloryville represents a state of mind, according to her official release. “It is a dark, dreary town that looms on the near horizon, infinitely closer than the far-off destination we’re trying to reach. Most weary travelers pull their cars into Faded Gloryville and stay awhile… some are willing to dust themselves off and leave town in the morning.”

This album is about heartache and hope. It is a deep philosophical treatise on not becoming stuck in a prison of our own making. This is not self-help book, doomed to failure, promising things that will never come, and only driving the weary traveler into deeper despair; Faded Gloryville is a collection of wonderful songs reflecting on dreams and nightmares. It is a hopeful journey that dreams of a new tomorrow.

– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)

The_Pack_AD The Pack A.D.
Meta Animal EP

Well, the Pack is back. This time Vancouver's rock duo, The Pack A.D., have released a four track EP, which follows closely on the heels of last year's Do Not Engage. The album contains a re-release of Do Not Engage's “Animal”, as well as three previously unreleased tracks. It also coincides with the release of “Animal”'s official video. The video features guitarist/singer Becky Black escaping from a research facility and being pursued by a crew of mad scientists, who eventually end up performing some “Thriller” dance moves. The video was filmed in their Vancouver, and was directed by long time friend and collaborator Jimi Cuell.

“Motorvate”, a Pack A.D. live show staple, is a hard ass fuzz track about life in the dying city of Detroit. “Concrete swimming pools, Let's hang out, Abandoned houses, Make good hideouts”. Up next is “Back In A Hole”, a tale of a self loathing reminiscent of Do Not Engage's “Loser”. “If I said something nice, I'm sure it'd kill me deep inside, Back in a hole where I belong”. The fourth and final track of the EP, “Nightcrawler”, is a The Oh Sees cover, included as both Black and Miller, are huge fans, and because it is a song which they are both able to sing.

Once again The Pack A.D. have put together just enough of a sampling of new music to keep us wanting more. Just the perfect mix of their brand of badass rock and roll, and haunting electric ballads, that is sure to satisfy the Meta animal in you.

– Trish Melanson Hill (Twitter @spydrgyrl)

Sufjan_Stevens Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell
Asthmatic Kitty

The entrancing sound of Sufjan Stevens’ unmistakable music is beautiful. The unpredictable yet cohesive sonic journey through his new album Carrie & Lowell will undoubtedly hold your attention from start to finish. The immaculately crafted album has a variety of production flavours from lo- to hi-fi and much in between; legend has it that one of the album’s tracks was recorded entirely on an iPhone in a hotel room while on tour. Carrie & Lowell would pair well with music by West Coast songstress Jessica Pratt or Bon Iver; its seductive melodies will suck you in and leave new audiences wondering where Stevens has been all their lives.

Since 2002's Enjoy Your Rabbit, Stevens has risen to critical acclaim with his unique brand of trippy acoustic and banjo folk rock; his songwriting and overall artistry get seem to get stronger every album. Carrie & Lowell is his best collection of songs to date.

The opening track, “Death With Dignity,” is a technical masterpiece with perfectly executed mandolin and guitar finger-picking coupled with superb lead vocals and harmonies. The eerie soundscapes and trippy production value of this record will sink deep in your psyche and possibly give you a beautiful scare. In “Fourth of July,” Sufjan convincingly reminds us that "We're all gonna die," where those words are steeped deeply in bottomless caverns of unsettling reverbs and ghostly atmospheric sounds. “John my beloved” takes you on a childish journey reflecting on loneliness, sadness and slivers of fondness toward the assumed subject named John. It's extremely hard to pick favourites here since ALL the material is so strong.

It’s safe to say that this release will be a serious force to be reckoned come awards time in 2015.

– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)