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)
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
When The Heavyweights Brass Band came onto the scene three years ago, they were a force to be reckoned with in the Toronto jazz world. Fresh out of college, they formed a band that has become one of the most popular independent groups in Toronto jazz. With their original, funky brand of New Orleans jazz, they have sold out shows at Koerner Hall, jazz festivals and the like.
Their first album, Heavyweight Don’t Bring Me Down, was a very imaginative jazz party filled with original groovy music as well as covers of pop classics including Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Bill Withers and even Justin Bieber. This time around, The Heavyweights bring a much jazzier vibe to the mix, even adding a sixth member to enhance the colour and texture of their sound.
Trumpeters Jon Challoner and John Pittman, trombonist Christopher Butcher, saxophonist Paul Metcalfe, sousaphonist Rob Teehan and drummer Lowell Whitty could very well be the most talented young guys under 30 who play jazz. They lead the sexiest band in jazz, worthy of a GQ or Esquire photo shoot.
This has got to be one of the most soulful, fresh albums in Canadian music this year thus far. Brasstronomical is a hip-hop influenced track that echoes the influence of Trombone Shorty. “I Believe I Can Fly” is a slick take on a pop song that also pays homage to Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy recordings, where they do brass jazz arrangements of popular hits. Guest stars on the album include Jane Bunnett and Giovanni Hidalgo, adding some Latin spice to their sound (“Misterioso” and the rousing closer “Float”, with a nod to “Picking Up the Pieces”). My favourite track is their take on the Erykah Badu classic “Telephone”, which was moody, jazzy and soulful all at the same time.
A great musical start to this year, Brasstronomical could very well be a contender for the 2014 Canadian album of the year.
– Conrad Gayle
Some hardcore, punk music is just what the doctor ordered to cut through the over-saturated Top 40 land of Bruno Mars and Lorde. Satanic Malfunctions provide old school punk with a 1981 basement vibe to it that has super gritty production and up-your-ass delivery. Bands like Die Kreuzen, Minor Threat and The Dead Kennedys come to mind when you hear this band, proving they are loyal to their roots. Them is their first album after an astounding 22 years, and it sounds like they never even took a break between albums. Satanic Malfunctions weathered whatever storm came their way through the years, pushing on and proving they can stand up to any of today's top punk and hardcore bands. Standout tracks include “Them”, a song that simply beats you down from start to finish with old school riffing and insanely fast drumming perfectly ground together with a vocal assault (where not a word can be made out if you tried), and “Beatings”, a song that has great writing, raw energy and great riffs (the blast beat breakdown in the middle of the song slips into speed metal territory, giving the album a great sense to depth in regards to style). “Trappings of Faith” deals out a serious helping of ear-bleeding insanity and amazing drumming. I'd love to see the band perform this blisteringly fast song in concert. For purist punk fans, this album is HIGHLY recommended.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
In a few words, Grady Kelneck is Canada’s best-kept folk singing secret. I imagine this won’t be for too long seeing as people are starting to take serious notice of this gifted troubadour. Kelneck’s outstanding debut album, Take My Hand, was produced by Aaron Comeau (Jerry Leger, Dear Sister) and recorded at the Lincoln County Social Club in Toronto. Kelneck describes Comeau as one of Toronto’s most gifted and hard-working musicians and explains that having the opportunity to work with him was a true blessing. It’s easy to see why Kelneck holds such high praise for Comeau since he is also a gifted multi-instrumentalist and has helped put together an absolutely first rate – and potentially breakthrough – record. With musical inspirations such as Townes Van Zandt, Jon Prine and Bob Dylan, you can certainly hear the influences of where these songs came from. In songs like “Take My Hand” and “Hey Lee” the lyric writing is so detailed that it puts the listener right into the story. They paint vivid pictures of the subject matter, taking you on a fascinating and emotional ride.
“I’ll Shoot You Down” is clearly one of the highlights of the album; it’s a simple tune with layers of soothing pedal steel and loads of backcountry atmosphere. This beautiful song is also accompanied by a stunning music video where Kelneck’s father, Ike Kelneck, stars as himself living a humble life off of the land. “Your Darkest Hour” is another highlight; it opens with Comeau introducing the song’s main melody on a 100-year-old pump organ before the banjo, resonator guitar, double bass and acoustic guitar join in. This is definitely one of my favorites of the record. “Colorado” is a timeless song based on the story of Townes Van Zandt, who took many spiritual detox treks from Crested Butte to Aspen in order to clean up for a bit before returning to his daily routine of bad habits. It’s another of the many brilliant tunes on this release.
If you’re looking to discover the next big thing in Canadian folk music, then you must pick up Kelneck’s Take My Hand. You will thank me.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
In the world of grindcore and death metal, the band Exhumed are considered demigods. These merchants of meat have been around since 1991 and still deliver the goods on an epic level. Their latest release, Necrocracy, is their fifth full-length release and has as much mayhem and power as any of their earlier releases. This is definitely one of their best sounding records to date; after one listen be assured that you will want to go out and smash someone’s face in then go have a beer. The audio production is amazing; the slick sound of this record really pulls the devastation together with KILLER drums, heavy riffs and demonic vocals. Tunes like “The Shape of Death To Come”, “The Glory of Death” and “The Rotting” are perfect examples of the musicianship and songwriting that this band can dish out. The album art doesn’t quite stack up to the classic Gore Metal cover, however it does relay the message that you’re in for something intense. The cover depicts necro-zombies carrying what looks like the mutilated hand of god through some kind of apocalyptic Nazi parade. Necrocrazy is quite simply an AMAZING release and is highly recommended for grindcore and death metal fans all over the world.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Here’s a release for disgruntled Neil Young fans who didn’t appreciate the lengthy Crazy Horse workouts on his last album, Psychedelic Pill, or his recent tour. This live recording, dated from late 1970, captures Young solo in concert, performing material from his then newly released album After the Gold Rush on acoustic guitar and piano.
The material is flawless, with well-known songs such “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “After The Gold Rush” and a piano version of “Cinnamon Girl”. Rub shoulders with Buffalo Springfield’s “Expecting to Fly” and his at-the-time-unreleased “See The Sky About To Rain”. The mastering is excellent, and Young’s guitar playing on an early version of “Old Man” and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” springs from the speakers, drawing the listener in.
Some of the goofy, inter-song banter is very much of its time, particular his ode to dope that prefaces “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong”. In some ways this collection is superseded by the Live at Massey Hall recording from 1971, a lengthier, marginally superior set which emerged six or seven years ago. It’s a shame Young didn’t delve into another, later period of his archives, but as a document of where this artist was at this point in time, it’s rather good.
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
Birthed in the flatlands of Edmonton, Alberta, iVardensphere is quickly becoming one of our nation’s greatest musical exports. Their distinctive sound involves a brew of heavy industrial beats and EBM, certain to perk the ears of any audiophile in range. iVardensphere’s latest creation, The Methuselah Tree is undeniably their most creative concoction to date. From the album’s beginning there is a constant rising tension as each track builds upon the next, furthering the intensity.
Synthetic white noise ripples through the speakers, as Scott Fox coaxes you into his warped industrial playground. The tribal drumming is, as always, invariably hypnotic. Slapping on a pair of headphones and drifting off into this layered psychedelic world produces a high like no other. Beautiful operatic melodies drift through your ears, cutting through edgier black-lit alleyways of electronic dissonance.
The Methuselah Tree is an observance of how much iVardensphere has grown since their first release of Scatterface in 2009. Every track on this album has purpose; there are no fillers in sight. Woven through the tracks “Snakecharmer” and “Observing Bartok (Stamping Dance)” is a cross-cultural blend of music, with influences spanning all the way from the Middle East into Asia. Stir in a mixture of intelligently crafted lyrics with adrenaline-inducing rhythms and you have the formula for one of the best-received records of 2013.
– Ariel Dawn Lando (Twitter @ArielDawnLando)
Belgium natives, Epysode, are fresh to the scene and bring with them a mix of power and symphonic metal to the foreground. Their latest album, Fantasmagoria – which in plain terms translates to a sequence of dream-induced illusions – is a slight deviation from the album’s true nature. The male and female vocal harmonics give the effect of a tragic opera, echoing some popular bands within the genre such as Leaves’ Eyes or Rhapsody. This album is rich with guitar solos, which are technically sound, but at times displaced within the tracks. This strange combination leaves its audience with an impression of comedic exaggeration. However, certain songs like “Garden of Exile” have a more intimate feel to them, exploring the gothic tones within a piano-based lullaby.
The most obvious flaw of Fantasmagoria lies in its construction. No musician in this band is necessarily incompetent or a bad composer, however the production value is undeniably problematic. Fantasmagoria has a very plastic-packaged feel to it, which unfortunately is a trap a lot of power metal bands end up falling into. It all sounds a little too perfect and could have used a significant dose of realism to it. But the energy of the band is well conveyed despite the recordings. If they bring even half of this intensity to their live performances, I cannot see why this would not be an interesting band to watch grow over the years.
– Ariel Dawn Lando (Twitter @ArielDawnLando)
Once again, Mindless Self Indulgence has proven that they can do what they please and there’s nothing you can do about it. Their latest album, Fuck Machine, is a compilation of remixes of their song “Fuck Machine” from their album How I Learned To Stop Giving a Sh*t And Love Mindless Self Indulgence. It’s literally 12 songs (with the exception of the “Jack You Up” remix) of pure brainwashing.
“‘FUCK Machine’ is a dirty song about fucking so much that you become a machine, so it’s the perfect song for a remix record,” said MSI vocalist and programmer Jimmy Urine in a press statement.
Fuck Machine is a collaborative effort between some of MSI’s friends such as KMFDM, Combichrist, Mustard Pimp and Blush Response. As repetitive as the album may sound, the remixes vary in genres giving each version a new take. The Scandinavian Cock mix takes on a heavy metal version of the song, while the KMFDM mix is all club and Dubstep. In the midst of giving each track individual attention, Black Lipstick’s mix of “Jack You Up” is a breath of fresh air. Ending it all is an A cappella version of “Fuck Machine”. This is when you truly get to enjoy Urine’s famous falsettos that appear in almost every MSI song.
All in all, Fuck Machine was a completely unnecessary release and publicity stunt to keep the cult-like fan base hyped for their upcoming tour.
– Emily Rivas (Twitter @RivasEmily)
Pestilence delivers the heaviest album I've heard since Behemoth's Demigod. The songs are so tight, it's hard to imagine that they were played by humans. With musical influences ranging from bands like Death, Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse, I think you can see that these guys aren't playing around. Pestilence has recorded an album with the sole intent to rip your ears off with no mercy. The use of the mighty eight-string electric guitar really punches through on this album; the riffs are so heavy it sounds like there are 10 guitarists laying down the beds. Tracks like “Aura Negative” and “Laniatus” deliver punishing guitar parts, beastly grind vocals and absolutely insane drumming that keeps you hooked from song to song. Pestilence is certainly in top form on this release and I HIGHLY urge all fans of speed metal, grind core and death metal to give this record a spin.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
I think the term “achingly beautiful” must have been invented because of Neko Case.
On her latest album, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, there are several times where Case’s incredible voice is so pure and stunning in these perfect moments where there’s very little accompanying her and you get swept away by the beauty and power. Especially when the words she’s singing aren’t very happy, like in the song “Where Did I Leave That Fire” when she sings so clearly: “I wanted so badly not to be me / I wanted so badly not to be me / I saw my shadow looking lost / checking its pockets for some lost receipt.”
The Worse Things Get is Case’s first new release in more than four years, and it was definitely worth the wait.
“I’ll reveal myself when I’m ready / I’ll reveal myself invincible soon,” Case sings in the rousing, hopeful album closer, “Ragtime.” And reveal herself she does – this album, Case’s sixth studio release, is described in press materials as “revealing Case at her most emotionally raw and yet, paradoxically, in steely control.” The songs are personal and powerful, frank, brave, honest and vulnerable. There are moments of anger, moments of sadness, moments of hope and moments of uncertainty, just like real life. “I am one and the same / I am useful and strange,” Case sings as the horns blast triumphantly in “Ragtime,” reminding us that it’s OK to be all those things.
Whether your musical tastes run more to the aggressive power-pop of the first single, “Man,” or the haunting a capella “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” or anything in between, Case shows us she can do it all beautifully on this album. For me, standout tracks include “Where Did I Leave That Fire,” “Calling Cards,” “Ragtime” and “Lost Girl.”
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
From his hard rocking days with Green Day to her Grammy-winning vocals in the Jazz genre, one wouldn’t think putting these two together would work out the way it has on their newest collaboration Foreverly. With a country/folk sound to the album, Billy Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones set out to pay homage to the timeless Everly Brothers, mainly dating back to their 1958 album, “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.”
The Everly Brothers were best known for their harmonies and high-tempo pop songs, but here, Armstrong and Jones focus on the more toned down songs from the brothers, therefore making the album more country-like. Everyone knows country/folk is based upon the things in life that often bring us pain; such as heartbreak and scarcity. Nevertheless, this unlikely duo hinges to those concepts to bring you one of the most anticipated albums of the year.
This album is easy on the ears, a testament mainly to Jones, but after a few listens one can hear the true darkness behind the lyrics. Nonetheless, there are a few songs on here that catch the ear more so than others. “Roving Gambler” kicks off the album with a steady beat, but if you are one for songs with such a presence, enjoy this one because this is as up-tempo as it gets. Billy Joe’s voice will inevitably catch you off guard at first due to its non-existent correlation to this type of music, but once you get past the initial shock, the song, along with the album, is smooth sailing from there.
The second track on the album, “Long Time Gone” is the perfect Everly Brothers song to add a twang to. Making it more country than old-time pop, this standard break-up song is easy on the ears and is one of the best on the album.
Rounding out the list as one of the key tracks is the last song on the album, “Put My Little Shoes Away.” One of the best harmonies on the album, Armstrong and Jones have the potential to sing you to sleep as the album comes to a soothing end. This song has been around since 1873, yet these two somehow manage to make it current. This shows the true power of such a dynamic duo.
This album is one that surely caught me off guard. When I heard Billy Joe was with Norah Jones, I was sure it was not going to turn out the way it did, However, Jones’ award-winning vocals delightfully sets off Billy Joe’s vocals and the two come together as if they have been doing this forever. Just like the Everly brothers, I am sure this album will stand the test of time.
Texan instrumental band This Will Destroy You produce lengthy, slow-building epics. Having released two studio albums, they are releasing a live double album recorded in Reykjavik. This will do little or nothing to dispel any comparisons with Sigur Ros. TWDY avoid vocals and retain English language titles for their song titles but otherwise we are on fairly similar territory here.
Long is the order of the day here, opening track “A Three Legged Workhorse” clocks in at over eight minutes while the mournful, clean guitar melodies of “There Are Some Remedies Worse Than The Disease” are fairly classy, with a nice blast of Mogwai-style shoegazing noise in the middle. The brooding “Black Dunes” opens with muddled, disembodied voices evoking John Carpenter soundtracks or even Mogwai’s Les Revenants soundtrack. “Burial On The Presidio Banks” produces probably the most Sigur Ros moment, while “Glass Realms” conjures up the sensation of floating away on a beatless, wintry snowscape.
After a while, a certain sameness sets in, tracks like “Quiet” and “The Mighty Rio Grande” exhibit little variety from what has gone before, though they add some glitchy beats to “They Move On Tracks of Never-Ending Light”, and the eleven minutes of “Little Smoke” sees the band give the full-on, heads down blast.
But what they do works well. Although it’s a live album it works every bit as well as a studio album, sounding crystal clear and well worth spending an hour or two with.
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
Previously a member of the Raconteurs, the Michigan-born Brendan Benson is now 6 albums removed from his departure of the group, most recently with the release of his latest LP “You Were Right.” Consisting of 15 new songs, this album was a typical release from Benson, full of upbeat tunes, but managed to keep a little country/folk influence just like on his previous releases. “You Were Right” is the accumulation of Benson’s best songwriting and is evident that it has grown over the years.
With rock songs on the album such as “Long Term Goal”, and cheerful ones such as “It’s Your Choice”, Benson shows his arsenal of songwriting skill by alternating the sound, feel and material throughout the album. Even so much so, that Benson still throws songs like “She’s Trying to Poison Me” into the album, just to show he can still have fun and not be so serious all the time when it comes to his lyrics.
Ultimately, Benson did things right on this album. A lot of these songs were previously released as singles and this approach helped him in the end, by taking the main pressure off of the album as a whole, and focusing more on the songs as individual masterpieces. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Benson is a good singer-songwriter, however, an album for the ages is still yet to be seen from the potential-filled Benson that will ultimately prove his greatness.
Grouplove’s Spreading Rumours is a giant dance party. Every track is an Indietronic anthem that catches on and gets you moving. Even though the band has seen success with the release of their platinum-selling single “Tongue Tied”, Spreading Rumours makes a great subsequent album to keep them in the lead of the scene.
The band formed in 2009 after an artists’ residency in Greece where everything went down. Finally established as Grouplove, the band took two and a half months to record and write, coming out with 25 songs. After forming the band, they quickly went on to do an extensive tour in 2011 called Never Trust a Happy Song.
In an interview with Nylon Magazine, singer Christian Zucconi says he thinks they are “just a better band now,” due to the fact that they’ve spent so much time on the road, and they have all gotten to know each other.
A lyric which can define Grouplove is from one of the strongest tracks on the album, “Hippy Hill”, where boyfriend-girlfriend bandmates, Zucconi and Hannah Hooper sing “I’d rather be a hippy than a hipster.”
The opening track “I’m With You” would also be a great contender to define the album. It’s catchy as hell and has a great danceable beat without being cheesy. “Borders & Aliens” shows off some melodic guitar riffs. The sound is playfully gritty and complementary hyperactive drumming elevates the excitement the song delivers. “Schoolboy” has a sweet bass groove, and Zucconi’s and Hooper’s alternating vocals have a great effect to the overall sound Grouplove is trying to achieve. But they can get emotional too, with songs like “You Didn’t Have To Go” hitting you in the heart, while keeping you captivated to the beat at the same time.
Through and through, the album is really strong and cheerfully brilliant.
– Emily Rivas (Twitter @RivasEmily)
Grouplove’s second album displays an indie/pop surf rock sound that has similar elements to The Pixies and the Flaming Lips. However, don’t get too excited. Spreading Rumours doesn’t display anything new or exciting from the “Ways To Go” group.
After visiting Los Angeles this past summer, I understand why bands like Grouplove have a following. The music scene in LA is very unique and there is a market for this style of music now, but will Grouplove survive after this trend dies?
I don’t know if people will be talking about Spreading Rumours in the future, but the album isn’t all that bad. There are a few songs that managed to keep my attention like the lead single “Ways To Go,” “Raseberry” and The Pixies esque “New to me.” While, “Hippie Hill” has lead singer Christian Zucconi confessing that he would rather be “a hippie than a hipster,” possibly taking a stab at todays hipsters?
In a time where indie pop bands are at the hight of their success (Foster The People, Passion Pit, Vampier Weekend, FUN and Family Of The Year); LA-based band Grouplove may have matched their counterparts with their sophomore album Spreading Rumours, but that is as far as it goes.
– Lindsay Becker (Twitter @LmBecks)
Glen Hansard, better known as the lead singer of the The Frames, is following up his debut solo album with his latest 4 song LP entitled Drive All Night. Having a mere four songs on the album, Hansard made this a charity album and all sales from it will benefit the Little Kids Rock Foundation, a non-profit group looking to further music education amongst schools.
When making an album that has such little to offer as far as number of tracks, one has to make sure they are the right ones and featuring the right people. Hansard shows that off by starting with his own rendition of the Bruce Springsteen hit, “Drive All Night.” With vocal appearances from Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder and Jake Clemons (Nephew of former E Street Band member Clarence Clemons), this rendition was made to contest with the original for which is better. After almost 9 minutes of song, my verdict lays on the simple fact that Hansard’s voice has the ability to ease you more and has the tendency to give off warmth as his words are left more open for interpretation. Nevertheless, both the original and this cover are timeless songs.
“Pennies in the Fountain”, his second song on the album, sings of a transient romance lost amongst all the other pennies in the fountain. Imbedded on the smoothness of a piano, the slight rock edge added to its production made it quite the listen. “Renata”, the second to last song on the album, is a bluesy production that makes me think it is the perfect song for sitting in front of a fireplace with nothing on but the radio. Hansard’s voice in this song once again displays his sincerity and the warmth you can feel regardless if you are in front of the fireplace or not.
The last song on the album, “Step Out of the Shadows” goes back to Hansard’s roots that were once stemming from a folk foundation. Completely stripped of production and instruments, this acapella song demands your attention as if it were being sung live on stage. Only just over 2 minutes long, this song is the perfect time in order to keep listeners intrigued with no instruments.
Nevertheless, Hansard shows he still has his chops. With a more slowed down album, to me at least, this is right in his wheelhouse. Not to mention, the best part about the album, is the fact Hansard decided it would be for charity. It takes a great person to become an admired musician and that is exactly what Hansard becomes after this album plays out.
Every once in a while something new and different provides a ray of sunshine on today’s music scene. Hard working young artist Emilia is that ray of sunshine. While honing her craft as a music student at York University, she dedicates herself to creating her own songs. The result is Flying Colors – a four-track EP that grabs your ear right from the start with the funky opener “Closer All the Time,“ and with its 70s/80s flair, I found myself moving along to the music; as well as “I am Free,” a likeable upbeat tune about being happy with yourself.
There is a good mix here of musical melodies encompassing a retro dance vibe, yet still infusing a contemporary sound of jazzy rhythms and soothing harmonies bringing to mind Nora Jones, or even Natalie Merchant; but with a flavour all her own complimented by meaningful lyrics. The beautiful “I’ll Be Safe” is just such an example. Packed full of emotion, Emilia’s lovely vocals wows the listener with an impressive vocal range.
This is overall a fabulous first effort with definite promise. If this is any indication of what is to come, I can’t wait to hear more!
– Charmaine Elizabeth Merchant (Facebook @charmaineelizabeth.merchant)
A Day To Remember, a band that successfully fuses pop punk with metalcore, consistently produces a great sound and great albums.
Common Courtesy, their newest release, may not be such a crowd-pleaser.
A lot of the tracks sound the same, a vibe of the album being half-assed is present and its predecessors are with no doubt superior albums. Despite this, some tracks are catchy, some tracks are decent enough to jam to and ADTR's distinct sound is definitely not in hiding back at the studio.
Kudos to ADTR for putting on great live performances and squeezing out another 13 tracks.
Check out "Violence (Enough Is Enough)" - the thrashiest track on Common Courtesy.
Clearly age doesn’t matter when it involves talent. The Radke brothers are in their mid teens to early twenties, which is difficult to process as their latest release shows so much skill. They have also given punk rock fans hope; punk isn’t dead after all.
The five track EP kick starts with the catchy “Cat & Mouse” track which happens to be one of my personal favorites due to frontman Dee Radke’s smooth deep vocals and Led Zeppelin-esque riffs. While,“Pretty Things” is a modern day punk song with a 70’s twist. However, It’s not all fun and games on the Cat & Mouse EP. “N.I.G.G.A ( Not OK)” addresses racism with it’s strong lyricism “You say your joking around / but I’m the one your putting down / hey you no it’s not okay.” If these three tracks that I mentioned are not punk rock enough for you, then you might want to listen to “Red Letter” and “Out Here In My Head” which are prefect tracks for moshing.
The self taught St. Joseph, Missouri-based band have made one of the finest punk albums of our generation. Their Cat & Mouse EP has all of the elements to create a solid punk cocktail: raw roaring guitar riffs, fierce drumming and songs that have intriguing hooks. Add a little metal in the mix and you have Radkey. The trio’s Cat & Mouse EP would make The Ramones and The Sex Pistols proud.
– Lindsay Becker (Twitter @LmBecks)
Do you remember when heavy metal ruled? Canadian musician and writer Sean Kelly does and his new book “Metal on Ice: Tales from Canada's Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes” is a tribute to that era of rock history. Kelly interviewed numerous Canadian hard rock stars from the 80’s for the book and then went a step further by getting some of them to collaborate in a Canadian super-group project simply called Metal on Ice. The result is a hard-rocking fun album which celebrates the 80’s Canadian hard rock/metal scene. Metal on Ice consists of Brian Vollmer of Helix, Nick Walsh of Slik Toxik, Carl Dixon of Coney Hatch, Darby Mills of Headpins, Russ Dwarf of Killer Dwarfs and none other than the Canadian metal queen herself – Lee Aaron.
The band covers 6 classic songs by each of the collaborators with each singing on their own song, with the exception of Kick Axe’s “On The Road to Rock” which is sang by Nick Walsh of Slik Toxik. The songs are played to perfection; true to the originals. Not having known better, one couldn’t tell they were re-recorded aside from the fresh clean production and digital recording. Sean Kelly himself produced the EP and played guitar on all tracks. Along with bassists Daryl Gray and Victor Langen, and drummer Dave Langguth, Kelly recorded a helluva record; maintaining all of the raw energy, attitude and power of the original songs. Vollmer sounds as raspy as ever on Helix’s “Heavy Metal Love”, and Lee Aaron (who in the 90’s left hard rock to perform lounge and jazz) returns to level the place with her sexy bad-girl growl on “Metal Queen”. The others shine as well; everyone came to play for this party. No phoning it in. No compromises. The EP ends with a brand new title track “Metal on Ice” which everyone performs together with impressive results. The other tracks on the EP (all performed with excellence) are covers of the Headpins “Don’t It Make Ya”, Coney Hatch “Hey Operator” and Killer Dwarfs “Keep the Spirit Alive.”
Fans of hard rock and metal, old and young, will appreciate this shot of Canadian rawk adrenalin. Metal on Ice is available on iTunes or you can download it or purchase the CD through Amazon. There are rumours of a tour. You don’t want to miss that.
– Michael Filonienko
Their / They're / There or TTT for short, released their 3 track EP under Polyvinyl records. Although short, the band showcases a fluctuating style that doesn't get at all monotonous. With strong vocals and beats, intricate strumming and a balance between thrashy verses and cheery tunes, TTT can be placed under a large range of genres.
Punk, ska, psychedelic rock, pop punk, indie rock, and whatever other hints you can pick up are all infused in this EP. Just as the tune is getting muted and slowed down, it's picked up again and carried on to the blissful end.
TTT have concentrated their skills into these 3 tracks, offering up a small collection that definitely beats a 15-song album of mediocrity.
Reflektor is by far the most interesting album Arcade Fire have ever released. Produced by LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, Reflektor is full of interesting arrangements, reverb guitar parts, dance inspired drum beats and catchy melodies; each song has a kick to it.
When I first heard Arcade Fire’s debut album Funeral back in 2004, it was around the same time Canadian independent artists were gaining credit elsewhere and putting our talented music scene on the map. However, I didn’t fully understand what all the hype was surrounding this Montreal-based band. Now, nine years later and with four full-length albums to their name, Reflektor defines a new direction for the Grammy Award- winning band. This latest release also shows how much they have evolved.
Some tracks to pay attention to on this new double album include their first single and self-titled track “Reflektor”(featuring David Bowie), the Reggae infused “Flashbulb Eyes” and the Caribbean sounding “Here Comes The Night Time.” Meanwhile Win Butler wants to know if you like rock ‘n’ roll music in “Normal Person,” which also has a wicked guitar line. Last but not forgotten, “We Exist” channels Fleetwood Mac’s "Tango in the Night".
– Lindsay Becker (Twitter @LmBecks)
Almost strictly an acoustic album with a few flares of folk instruments such as fiddle and keyboard, Tony Dekker, more widely known as the lead singer of the group Great Lakes Swimmers, goes his separate way in his first solo album. It was evident from his days with the Great Lakes Swimmers that Dekker had all the talent in the world, but his love for music and skill for singing are manifested profoundly in his release of Prayer of the Woods.
Dekker displays his soothing vocals on this album along with his distinct ability to write songs. Most artists nowadays need a writer when it comes to making an album, but Dekker shows he is just fine all by himself. Although this album is mainly just a passion project for Dekker, he still continues to work with his band in anticipation of their next album, which is due out in 2014. Nevertheless, Dekker makes this project a success with songs such as “On My Way Back.” This song emphasizes his vocals as it rests gently upon an acoustic guitar. You can feel the despair in his voice, but are soon transitioned to a feeling of hope through his songwriting. In his title track, “Prayer of the Woods” Dekker sings of the great Toronto scenery and its ability to capture beauty in all it is intended. This song had the potential to break into some upbeat arrangements, but Dekker sticks to what he knows best throughout the song, keeping it tame and light-hearted. With that being said, my favorite track on the album is his rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway.” With just the acoustic guitar in his hand, Dekker’s voice exemplifies the definition of “carefree.” This soft spoken vocal delivery is enough to make you believe every word he says.
It is blatant that Dekker is a talented musician. However, it is up to Great Lakes Swimmers fans to decide which way they like their lead singer best. If you ask me, after listening to this album, Dekker shows he is the heart and soul of that band and will make great music, with or without them at his back.
With three records to their name, Ha Ha Tonka took it upon themselves to truly broaden their horizons with the release of their latest album, Lessons. With songs that tend to mean more when the lyrics are laid out in front of you to be read, you can still hear the sincerity in lead vocalist Brian Roberts’ voice. He tempts you to listen intently and find correlation between his words and our own lives, the true symbol of a great singer. If there is one thing to be learned from this album, it is that Ha Ha Tonka is now wiser beyond their years thanks to the “lessons” they have learned throughout their first three albums.
With previous albums that were simpler and more stripped down, Ha Ha Tonka stuck more to their southern roots this time, incorporating more instruments such as strings and keyboards to add the flare necessary to produce a successful album. The song “Colorful Kids” remains upbeat and rhythmic yet touches upon heart-wrenching subject matter. Looking back at youth and the debauched promise it often entails, “Colorful Kids” true meaning is one of sadness and reflection.
“Rewrite Our Lives” is a self-explanatory song that spills its meaning within the title. With relative subject matter to another song “The Past Has Arms”, both songs make the suggestion that mistakes one can make, often have unforeseen repercussions later on in life. Nonetheless, with every song on the track, one can sense there are two different “lessons” being taught here. One that tells you of optimism and being excited for the future, while the other speaks of not being able to move on from one’s past. This kind of contradiction makes this album an easy listen and one that intrigues you, waiting in anticipation for what lesson will be taught next.
Furthermore, Lessons is a great listen whether you want to reflect on memories or anticipate the future. Music is meant to help cope with one’s emotions and if you feel sad and regretful, they have a song for that. But if you are happy and joyful, they have a song for that too. Nevertheless, by the end of Lessons you will be wiser for lending your ears.
We Are Scientists made a splash across the pond in 2006 with their Virgin Records release With Love and Squalor, which gained international success and became a gold selling album in UK. While, their second full-length album, Brain Thrust Mastery debuted at 11 on the UK album charts, but will they be able to achieve success with their Business Casual EP?
The indie New York-based band’s cover of the 80’s ballad “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin leaves much to be desired as it doesn’t add anything special to the five track EP. While, “Dumb Luck” begins with an 80’s glam metal riff intro and “Return The Favor” displays a heavy guitar solo which continues to channel the hair metal days of the 80’s.
It’s not the worst EP, but it’s definitely not my favorite. As a We Are Scientists' fan myself I am a little disappointed with their latest EP release as there is no business, it is just casual. It lacks inspiration and cohesiveness. After being a band for more than eleven years, I was expecting something more. If you are a die hard We Are Scientists’ fan you might be able to find some common ground, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
– Lindsay Becker (Twitter @LmBecks)
Tin Star is the third official release from Canadian country singer Lindi Ortega and although it is too early to tell what commercial success the album will enjoy, its importance to country music is undeniable.
This little gem runs a mighty thirty four minutes and the spirit of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline seem deeply infused in every track. There is also a great deal of wit and humour permeating the lyrics, giving each song its own unique signature.
The record reminds me of Bob's Country Bunker. For those of you too young to know the enchanting Aykroyd/Belushi film The Blues Brothers, it is a musical journey that brings Elwood and Jake Blues to a little bar which plays both types of music; Country and Western. Like Bob’s bunker, this album is filled with unforgettable human blues and spirit, but at its core it captures the soul of Country music.
Some will probably label this recording as alternative or indie country because it doesn’t quite fit with today’s commercially successful ‘new’ Country, but such a label would be disingeneous and misleading. In Tin Star, Lindi Ortega has delivered our county's best. She has created lasting songs which transcend time and conventions. The album speaks to the struggles and persistence of new artists, the gypsy life of the road, and muses on dreams to come.
There are too many things that highlight this record, but they are ultimately overshadowed by the track “Lived and Died Alone”. I will go out on a limb, as the winter snow is on the horizon, ending another musical year, that this track should be considered as the best song of the year, and should perhaps be nominated for a Juno.
The melody is sad and haunting, but it is the lyrics that shine. Lindi Ortega manages to morph an Edgar Allan Poe vibe that is emerges as both tender and disgustingly creepy.
The song focuses on the thoughts of a woman who was never loved and found no fish swimming in her sea. In her loneliness she robs the graves of the dead and attempts to give them comfort.
“When the sun has set, I will go dig up the dead. Lift their bodies from their graves and I’ll lay them in my bed. To fill their hallow hearts, with all of my broken parts. And all the love that they were never shown. To all those who have lived and died alone”.
The entire album is worth its weight in gold, but “Lived and Died Alone” is a diamond. Lindi Ortega is an unbelievable star and should gain herself a new following of fans. It is hard to imagine this star being hidden inside a tin can for very long.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd has just released a solo album, under the name HBS (the H is for Hunter). It's quite far removed from Soundgarden, opening with the Mark Lanegan-evoking backwoods blues of “Stone Pale”. Despite the presence of, believe it or not, a frog chorus on “Koda”, it's relatively sprightly yet it sort of misses the mark.
The stripped-down “Collide” features some gorgeous mandolin-picking courtesy of Shepherd himself. “Neverone Blues” could be a darker moment on an Eel's album, while “Baron Robber” features some decent heavy guitars. Elsewhere, the playing on tracks like “Loose Ends” and “Veritas” is perfectly good, but the songs just don't catch fire. Shepherd's vocals are deep and black as coal but just don't stand out. Must try harder
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
Jonathan Clancy is a busy man, splitting his time between A Classic Education and His Clancyness. As mainman in His Clancyness, he bears chief responsibility for Vicious, an album that on first listen sounds like a perfect distillation of The Strokes, The Horrors and Interpol, right from opener “Safe Around The Edges”. The problem is, that's what it sounds like on each subsequent listen. The music on songs like “Hunting Men” and “Machines” unfolds in a studied, deliberate fashion, and Clancy's dispassionate sound the essence of cool but something is missing. It could be heart but I suspect it's BALLS. The all-important swagger is missing here.
“Miss Out These Days” and “Slash The Night” feature slightly grating keyboards, but, like all the songs here, deliver a payoff in the form of a soaring catchy chorus. “Run Wild” and “Zenith Diamond” have a feel and vocal that Julian Casablancas used to be able to do in his sleep, while “Crystal Clear” channels late 80s epic (think Simple Minds/Deacon Blue). Only with the fine final track, the aptly-named six minute plus “Progress”, does the band get the opportunity to cut loose, locking into a pleasing groove right at the end of the album.
It's quite listenable but nothing special, the type of thing that the phrase 'indie-landfill' was coined for.
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
Some of the most notable musical acts tend to originate from The United Kingdom, America and Canada; but Sweden? Who really knew that when Swedish natives The Sounds hit the scene back in 2002 with their debut release Living in America, it would leave a lasting impression in the music industry.
The Sounds have always had a distinct New-Wave sound and they manage to reinvent themselves with every album. Their 2006 follow up release Dying to Say This to You, displays the Swedish rockers’ Punk side with songs such as “Song With a Mission” and “Ego.” While, 2010s Something to Die For is an 80’s Dance infused album.
The Sounds’ fifth album Weekend is more of an easygoing simplistic one. It shows the band’s relaxed synthrock side with songs such as the head-swaying single “Weekend” and the heavyhearted “Hurt The Ones That I Love.” However, in true style, The Sounds also have their traditional catchy upbeat tracks such as “Shake Shake Shake,” “Outlaw” and “Animal.”
The Sounds have been compared to The Cars and Blondie, but I think it is fair to say that they have created an unmistakeable sound by mixing Punk, New-Wave, Rock and Synthpop – that cannot be duplicated. If you are a fan of The Sounds or just jumping on the bandwagon, this album will have you hitting the repeat button on your iPod.
– Lindsay Becker (Twitter @LmBecks)
In Our Nature
Warner Music Canada
I’ve always liked Blue Rodeo, and the band’s latest album, In Our Nature, reminds me why. The band’s 13th studio album, released Oct. 29, feels like classic Blue Rodeo, with great songs, great singing and great instrumentation.
Released 26 years after the popular roots rockers’ first album, In Our Nature was produced by Blue Rodeo, primarily at Greg Keelor’s farm studio, Lost Cause. “While at Keelor’s farm, the band had each musician set up and perform in separate rooms around the house, giving the record a very warm and communal character,” according to Blue Rodeo’s website. “Communal” is a great word to describe the feel of this album, which features Jim Cuddy (vocals/guitar), Greg Keelor (vocals/guitar), Bazil Donovan (bass), Glenn Milchem (drums/vocals), Bob Egan (guitar/pedal steel/mandolin), Mike Boguski (keyboards) and Colin Cripps (vocals/guitar).
In Our Nature starts out really strong with the energetic “New Morning Sun,” with its chorus of “Gotta rise up/rise up and take the sky like a new morning sun/if we walk away/then we walk away never knowing what we could have done.” I like the flow of this album, which ends with the gorgeous “Tara’s Blues” and a fantastic cover of The Band’s “Out of the Blue.”
There’s something comforting and familiar, but also fresh, about this album. The band is tight, the songs are strong, and the feel is warm. I have a feeling I’ll be playing In Our Nature a lot.
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
Old Friends Records
It always amuses me when a band has some sort of obscure, but descriptive, way of categorizing the kind of music they make. For example, New Jersey-based band, Static Jacks, describes their music as “Drunken Garage Party Punk”. But when listening to their latest album, In Blue, there is no other genre that fits them best. The album brings the fuzziness of Garage with the light-hearted melodies of Indie-Pop.
Static Jacks’ sound has definitely matured from their If You’re Young days, but the same enthusiasm and sense of fun is carried with their new work. The 11 tracks on In Blue can go anywhere from sounding acoustic and laid back, to rowdy and distorted. The album seems to have all their Garage-sounding tracks at the beginning and as it progresses, it takes on a more Indie-Pop sound.
In Blue starts off with “Horror Story”, a short track with quaint, quiet acoustic guitar that progresses into a heavier guitar. It’s followed by “I’ll Come Back”, where an up-lifting and moving melody guides you through. It’s got the positive vibes of a Pop-Punk anthem. The third track, “Wallflowers” is probably one of the strongest off the album, as it defines the overall sound of Static Jacks. Ian Devaney’s voice along with this track is interesting. He sounds like someone who you would hear in your typical mainstream Indie-Pop, but matches quite well with the backed and distorted “Ooohs” that usually distinguish a Garage-Punk song (think Wavves). It’s the same deal with “Katie Says”, a power chord-heavy song, with vocal melodies that are enough to make you reminisce of a sunny summer day. With Tracks like “Home Again” and “Ninety Salt” carry predominant bass lines and powerful drums, it’s a little disappointing that that feeling was lost by the end of the album title track, “In Blue”, which had a very melancholic feeling.
If you hadn’t heard of Static Jacks before, it will come as a pleasant surprise when you give In Blue a listen. It’s not so much actually independently alternative, as it is a sound that has something that everyone can enjoy.
– Emily Rivas (Twitter @RivasEmily)
All We Are
Made up of songwriters Jenny Parrott and Vaughn Walters, Loves It is a Folk/Country duo that just recently released their sophomore album, All We Are Hailing from Austin, Texas this duo was formed in 2010 after finding common ground as artists that consisted of the same country roots. With what at times seems to be quirky and unsteady vocals, the two somehow manage to harmonize despite their voices not exactly being destined for one another. Although they do not sound like a typical country duo, these two somehow manage to get you to like them through their effervescent characters, despite their voices not being too strong. However, it is their songwriting that keeps them afloat.
The first release on the album, “Wild” is a song that you cannot help but tap your feet to, especially when Walters breaks into his electric guitar’s instrumental halfway through the song. This little flare of electric guitar is somewhat parallel to that of Skynyrd and more recently, Brad Paisley.
“Appalachian Ballad” is a beautiful love song that was written by the duo and is slowed down and stripped in comparison to the aforementioned “Wild.” Although the vocal on the song is once again not the strongest, the words they sing are enough to keep you drawn in. It is a distinctive love song that sings of spending one’s life with a significant other only to later be separated by the inevitable call of death. The version I had heard was straight acoustic, but I feel with a little instrumental, just a bit, it could be the gem of the album. Nevertheless, their song “Choose” tells a different story, not one of eternal love, but rather of a love triangle.
This country duo is atypical in the sense on their vocal direction but remain typical in their dedication to stick to their roots. A great Country album tends to have a beginning and an end when it comes to the track listing, but All We Are is more like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. Nonetheless, one can sense the group’s endearment and genuine nature through their songs, but it is just a few cards shy of a full deck. Loves It has serious potential as a duo and if they keep touring the open road like they are and producing tear-jerking ballads, I feel they can one day reach their final destination of Folk stardom.
The Band In Heaven
Caught In A Summer Swell
In the last few moments of a three-month long dream, Florida's own The Band in Heaven rise from sarrow sands. Reaching for instruments, the jangle guitar of "Dandelion Wine" along with the boy, girl vocals of Ates IIsidak and Lauren Dwyer create a warm atmosphere for all to enjoy. On "Fairweather Friends," vibrato vocals elicit an R.E.M. vibe that plays host to an unstable chorus.
Tracks like "Does It Show" flirt with shimmering 80's sound effects. On "Music Television," the band garners a more palatable sound while "Tunnel Your Dreams" ushers forth a slower tempo by adding in woeful violins. A somber, slow-swaying anthem degrades family expectations with the line, "you were the sun back when I was young / you were the sun back when I was dumb." "Young and Dumb" makes strong declarations contrasted by the inevitability of aging, a consistent theme held throughout.
The Band in Heaven vent their dissatisfaction with life's rituals. There are thoughts circulating about each member to grasp the paths that have been so out of reach until now. Thoughts of divinity cross them, as do the topics brought forth by Bradbury's famed pen. Peace, though, seems to be the only medium. No bloodshed. No war. What started as a two piece Dream-Pop / "Noisegaze" act has evolved into an indie quintet who borrow from the 90's No Wave Movement and work in the contemporary sounds of those Modular People. Caught in a Summer Swell is a time capsule, a palpable means of rebellion that borders nostalgia, a riptide. Within the concluding breath of dramatized hallucinations, a sunny disposition veils dour lyrics and cynical views. Do not deter from this auspicious world where summer is forever relevant.
– J.R. Leyvas (Twitter @JRLeyvas)
Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)
It’s safe to say that Gary Numan has come a long way since he first began playing in the punk rock band Tubeway Army with his uncle and friend Paul Gardiner. After finding fame both at home in the UK and abroad with singles like “Are Friends Electric?” with Tubeway Army and “Cars” independently, he faded from the spotlight even though his two singles, most famously “Cars,” remained engrained in popular culture.
Over the past decade, particularly since the release of Sacrifice in 1994, his music has seen a resurgence in popularity as it evolved into a darker, more industrial sound arguably influencing (or influenced by?) bands like Nine Inch Nails. This move towards more brooding sounds has been an important move for Numan, as it showcases not only his superb songwriting skills, and most importantly his voice. This shift culminates in Splinter: Songs From A Broken Mind.
Numan’s voice has always been his most powerful asset -though he’s a magnificently talented songwriter, it’s the sheer uniqueness of his voice that makes him stand out as a musician. It shines on feature tracks like “I Am The Dust,” “Love Hurt Bleed,” and “Splinter,” but really stands out against the whispering featured in the second song on the album, “Here in the Black” and manages to feel both intense and intimate and sweeping and epic at the same time as a result. Though the album is clearly a complex layer of sounds, vocals and instrumentals it never feels cluttered or overwhelming.
In the middle of the album things slow down considerably. “Lost”, which -both due to it’s place at the center of the track listing and how the tracks before and after lead to and from it- is undeniably the heart and soul of the album. It tackles feelings of love and loss in a significantly more subtle way than the rest of the tracks found on Splinter. In the middle of an album that is dominated by darkness and aggression “Lost” feels like a glimpse into Numan’s own personal fears and anxieties.
In fact, Numan himself has stated that Splinter is the culmination of several years of intense change -moving from the UK to Los Angeles, dealing with bouts of depression, the struggle of being a parent to three children, and a midlife crisis- and listening to the album in that context it becomes immediately apparent that this isn’t some attempt to reclaim some of his former glory. Splinter chronicles and explores his personal battle to come to terms with his life, the highs and lows, and to make sense of it. In this light especially the album moves from just feeling like it’s expressing something dark and intimate to feeling like he’s talking straight you, the listener, about his life.
In most cases when a musician releases their 20th album it’s either a compilation of greatest hits or so full of rehashed material that it’s not even worth listening to. With Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind), however, Gary Numan shows that this is not always the case. If anything, this album only reinforces the quality of his writing and his lasting importance in the music industry.
– Alyson Shane (Twitter @alysonshane)