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)
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)
Twelve years after their last album and recorded in Kowloon, Hong Kong (which might explain the album cover), Blur is back with an album that well…..is basically a Blur record. The old Blur. No monster hit here like 1997’s “Song 2,” but it is great to hear Damon Albarn’s distinctive singing once again.
Blur was formed in London in 1988 and now consists of singer/keyboardist Damon Albarn, guitarist/singer Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree. Blur was part of the Cool Britannia Britpop movement in the 1990s, where groups such as Oasis, Pulp, Elastic, and Suede exploded into and dominated alternative radio stations and made headway into mainstream pop.
By the time 2005 arrived, the status of Blur was precarious. Coxon had left Blur a few years earlier and other members pursued other musical projects. It wasn’t until 2009 when Blur reunited for a concert in London’s Hyde Park to which very favourable reviews were received that Blur was on more solid footing.
Now over a decade later we have their studio work after some failed recording sessions and occasional touring over the past few years.
Magic Whip features songs with a variety of styles such as simple playful tunes like “Ice Cream Man” and “Ong Ong,” spaghetti western “Magic Whip” and a rockin’ “Lonesome Street.”
It’s nice to see the London boys back together again.
– Patrick Li
Lovers of banjos and chewing tobacco beware; the latest release from Mumford & Sons may make you uncomfortable, but not regretful.
Perhaps it is important to start the review by mentioning that Marcus Mumford described the band's third studio release, Wilder Mind, as "a development, and not a departure."
Development... departure... tomato... potato...
No matter how one approaches or interprets the new album, it’s difficult to miss a very real departure on some level. Yes, the word development sounds much sweeter, but there is nothing wrong with accepting that a divergence or deviation has occurred. Wilder Mind offers very little of the stripped-down, intimate, and acoustic sound that made Mumford & Sons a refreshing choice in today's auto tune music scene.
The album will likely find its way to the top of the charts and receive mixed reactions from critics; it may prove disappointing to some hardcore fans. Listeners who were never fans of the band to begin with may find it as a reason to renew their criticism.
When the dust settles, however, this will prove to be a very important record.
This is a musician’s album, plain and simple. Musical history over the decades teaches us that at some point most artists will struggle with their own success. Kurt Cobain felt trapped in the grunge sound; the same can be said of The Beatles in their own scene. Time and time again, musicians either change, die a painful death, or wait patiently for the reunion tour.
Neil Young is perhaps the guiding light on the subject because he has always followed his own muse. Queen and U2 are also examples as they struggled to revive what made them fall in love with music to begin with. There is a whole music history lesson here, but that is for another time.
Wilder Mind is just that. It is a call for a wilder and wider mind. It is an invitation for a broader experience because it is never good to be trapped inside a banjo.
In their third studio release, Mumford & Sons retain the qualities that made them a great rock band. Wilder Mind continues to explore their incredible melodies and lyrical depth. The booty-centric lyrics of Meghan Trainor have sadly become an industry standard, so it is quite refreshing to have the opportunity to still use one’s mind – that artificial muscle no one cares to train or exercise.
“Tompkins Square Park” is a gem of a track. The melody is beautiful and Mumford’s voice is very haunting. It’s a wonderful way to start the record.
It’s important to note that Mumford's voice remains the focal point of every track. The producer did not bury his voice behind distortion or some elaborate instrumentation. It is easy to follow the lyrics and understand the human pain trapped inside his voice.
The drums and bass unify the sound of the album. They are the cornerstone of most bands, and here they have been called upon yet again as the main harbinger of the new direction. The most pleasant surprise were the very brief but lovely guitar solos, which were so delightful that it’s a little disappointing they didn’t infiltrate the later tracks.
Have no fear. This is a great recording. It’s one that will invigorate Mumford & Sons and inspire them to continue to fill the great musical landscape with great tracks.
If you missed a chance to score tickets to the very intimate Toronto gig a few weeks ago, you will be very disappointed that the Niagara-on-the-Lake show on June 15th is sold out. Your only remaining option is to catch the band in Quebec or Western Canada in August.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
Kintsugi, the latest work from American group Death Cab For Cutie, is titled after a Japanese form of art involving fixing broken pottery where breakage and repair is not hidden but is acknowledged and treated as part of the object’s history. It is fitting that during the production of their eighth studio album, founding member Chris Walla declared he was leaving the band to pursue other music projects.
Apart from the Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”-like opening on “Good Help (is So Hard to Find),” the album is not surprisingly downbeat, given singer Ben Gibbard’s divorce a few years back and the departure of Walla.
Overall the album is incredibly melodic, mature sounding and more cohesive in nature compared to the 2011 release Codes and Keys. “Black Sun” is a catchy tune and deserved to be the album’s first single.
The final track, “Binary Sea,” is a haunting piece to finish the album and ends with the lyric, “There is something brilliant bound to happen here.” I guess only time will tell for Death Cab For Cutie. After all, they sing that there is hope within despair.
– Patrick Li
“Don’t You Forget About Me”….wasn’t that the song from the John Hughes movie? Yeah it was and it’s still probably the most well known song associated with the Scottish quintet Simple Minds, even though the group never wrote it. I still remember lead singer Jim Kerr’s disdain for the song when it first came out: “Would I ever write about vanity and security?” Simple Minds was an important group already in the new wave era in the 1980s and the reissue of Sparkle in the Rain confirms that.
Originally released in 1984, the songs from Sparkle still sound bold and powerful. “Waterfront,” “Up on the Catwalk,” and “Speed Your Love to Me” are staples of Simple Minds’ music catalogue and the reissue of Sparkle includes a number of remixes of these songs. The multi-disc set also provides live versions of these three as well as live highlights from previous albums New Gold Dream and Sons and Fascination. The live recordings came from a Barrowland Ballroom concert in Glasgow, U.K. in 1984 and it’s easy to see how the works of Simple Minds would translate well in any arena or stadium setting.
Don’t you forget that there is so much more to Simple Minds. They’re still alive and kicking and touring in support of their new album, Big Music.
– Patrick Li
Reinventing the classics: In Descarga for Monk, pianist Alex Conde and his band interpret nine of Legendary pianist and composer Thelonious Monk’s compositions through the lense of Conde’s Spanish upbringing.
Monk produced a body of work rich in harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic variety. Whether it’s straight ahead, avant-garde, or Latin influenced, there’s always something new to discover and explore when interpreting Monk’s music.
In the openers “Played Twice” and “Ugly Beauty,” Alex transforms these two compositions effectively into flamenco workouts complete with percussion, foot stops, and hand claps that bring a rhythmic, world-influence edge to Monk’s music. “Evidence” is a creative take on jazz salsa, in which its interpretive arrangement makes the listener want to dance and groove to the exotic rhythms. Conde is a sensitive solo pianist with his interpretations on “Pannonica” and “Round Midnight,” embellishing the timeless melodies and applying his Spanish rhythmic influences into his solo playing.
Descarga for Monk is a fresh, exciting, and bold new interpretation of the familiar and original music of Thelonious Monk. Artists like Conde show that jazz is truly a world music, effectively absorbing and applying such rhythms and concepts into great new musical discoveries.
I still have the record. In fact the sleeve has come apart from all of the times I listened to it over and over. Songs From the Big Chair was originally released in 1985 and was the second album from Tears For Fears, comprised of British duo Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith.
Their first album The Hurting was incredibly unique and melancholy. Of course only the well-informed new wave enthusiasts were the first to rave about their sound. It’s a bit sad that these days when one hears “Mad World” it’s associated with the film Donnie Darko or the Gears of War video game. But on the other hand, its use in the Xbox commercial brought new audiences to appreciate Tears For Fears (and anyway, Gears of War is a damn good game).
Likewise, Songs From The Big Chair, was definitely much more radio-friendly and approachable than The Hurting, and it brought Tears For Fears into mainstream popularity back in the day.
Thirty years after its original release, we are treated to a deluxe edition of the album and as someone who grew up near Toronto and actually attended one of Tears for Fears’ shows, it’s a wonderful surprise to have recordings from the Massey Hall concerts available.
The tracks from the original album remain, and included are a number of bluesy b-sides. However, this edition also includes “The Way You Are,” which was a single released in between the first two albums.
If you were a fan of their big hits, “Shout,” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and “Head Over Heels,” you will have more than your fill of U.K. or extended or remixed or radio version of these songs. It’s almost a bit much. Do we really need an a cappella version of “Shout?”
If you haven’t heard of them, give them a listen. You will never find a better summer driving song than “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Now I wonder if I can find my Tears For Fears concert T-shirt and, more importantly, can I still fit in it?
– Patrick Li
Modern Nature has been making waves. It is The Charlatans UK's first release since the death of drummer and long-time member Jon Brookes, who died of brain cancer in August 2013 at the age of 44. One would expect the tone of the album to be sullen and morose; Modern Nature is anything but. The band’s 12th studio album, their first in five years, was released in the UK on January 26 and is expected to reach North American shores on April 23, 2015.
The album, their first with BMG Chrysalis, was recorded at their own Big Mushroom Studio in Cheshire. It was produced by The Charlatans and Jim Spencer, and mixed by Craig Silvey (Portishead, Arcade Fire). Rather than replace Brookes, the album includes tracks recorded by the drummer himself before his death, and features a rotation of notable drummers lending their talents to the tracks, including Peter Salisbury (The Verve), Stephen Morris (New Order), and Gabriel Gurnsey (Factory Floor). Other special guests include Melanie Marshall and Sandra Marvin (Kate Bush’s backup singers), Sean O’Hagan on strings, and Big Jim Paterson (Dexys) on brass. The result is an upbeat, summery, and joyful album that celebrates the life of Brookes rather than mourning his loss.
Brookes’s presence is felt right from the start. The first track on the album, “Talking In Tones,” is a pensive, haunting song about communicating telepathically. A catchy drum beat, a keyboard riff and a layer of hollow voices set a haunting tone. “I feel strengthened, by your presence/ It's like Heaven, in sixes and sevens.” This tone is not maintained for long; the next track, “So Oh,” is one of the lightest, breeziest, happiest songs on the album. Written in the cold of January, it transports you back to a hot, carefree, summer day. “Come Home Baby,” “Emilie,” “Trouble Understanding,” and “Let The Good Times Be Never Ending” carry on the upbeat tone. The album maintains a light, summery and joyful tone until the ninth track, “I Need You To Know,” on which Brookes plays the drums. Recorded before his death, the song is more intense and speaks of the urgency of impending loss. “I could have said, I should have said, It's always the same, Can I tell you, Before it's too late?”
The deluxe version of the album contains four bonus tracks that clearly seal Brookes' influence and presence. “We Sleep On Borrowed Time” begins with a somewhat funereal organ melody. Within 30 seconds, however, it becomes infused with joy and hope. “Walk With Me” was written and recorded by Brookes before his death, and includes a backing choir of children from a school where he used to teach. “Honesty” is a beautiful acoustic instrumental version of “Emilie,” complete with strings. “Marauder,” a kickass keyboard and drum instrumental, completes the deluxe package.
Modern Nature has received rave reviews in the UK and is touted by many as being The Charlatans' best album yet. This is not surprising, as The Charlatans are survivors; they have endured many tragedies over their 27 years together, yet somehow this time their loss has been rejuvenating. Brookes was adamant that The Charlatans create another album; although the record came to life after his death, his presence on the album is clear. It is a joyful and loving testimony to the late drummer. He would definitely be proud.
– Trish Melanson Hill (Twitter@spydrgyrl)
C & C Surf Factory is a band with a great blend of garage-based rockabilly and surf guitar jams, brought to you by Toronto axe masters Colin Cripps and “Champagne” James Robertson. Their debut album Garage City will keep your drive rockin' and rollin' for the sunny days to come, so grab your board, jump in the woody suburban, and crank it up.
“P Soup,” is a real knockout track that showcases Colin and CJR's incredible guitar chops and highlights the band's chemistry. The lead guitar hooks are what truly make this song so great; they are addictive and will loop in your head for hours. For the ultimate ‘60's So-Cal beach experience you'll have to check out “Takeshiesque,” a tune that incorporates sounds of The Beach Boys and other original melodic flavours that conjure up images of grainy old 16mm surf films. This would definitely be a suitable soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino film. “911” is another standout track, with a lingering guitar jam that mixes Fender beach sounds with the jam-band stylings of String Cheese Incident and Umphrey's McGee; at 4:49 in length you'll get your groove on here. Closing out side I of the album is “Cat Girl,” which slows things down to an atmospheric Hawaiian vibe before taking the plunge into side II. Its meandering and tremolo heavy guitars are absolutely beautiful and will have you thinking of endless summers and crashing California waves.
“Cobra Basket” kicks off side II. Its left-of-centre sound incorporates Middle Eastern flavours and may not be for the surf purist but will certainly hold your attention with its fuzzy bass lines and Persian keyboard leads. C &C didn't leave out the indie rock here: the final track, “Phasors On Sun,” comes at you with a low-fi and grungy vibe taking dirty guitars and drums that get mighty trippy with the delay pedal and other psychedelic effects. This is a cool – closer to an impeccable – album.
If spring reverb, tremolo and surfable waves are your thing then look no further, Garage City is for you! From the songwriting to production to track listing, this album is near perfect. For vinyl enthusiasts, the album is available on 180-gram red and mottled white vinyl. Check out sixshooterrecords.com for details and surf on.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Run is an ambitious and impressive project. AWOLNATION’s sophomore album was written, performed, and produced entirely by lead singer Aaron Bruno. The album features 14 new songs that go in many different directions, offering softer, more acoustic sounds, energetic almost-punk-like sounds, and everything in between.
The album starts off strong with “Run,” with its heavy beat and eerie lyrics like the repeated “I am a human being/capable of doing things” and “You people are mistaken if you think that I’m awake and celebrating anything that I’ve become.” Interestingly, a bold, high-energy song like this is followed by a softer song called “Fat Face,” which starts off with pretty piano lines and builds in power as Bruno starts to yell. It’s this mixture of sounds, textures, speeds and intensities – which you’ll find from one song to the next but also within a song – that makes this album so interesting.
“Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf),” the album’s first single, is one of the best songs on the album. It’s catchy as hell, and the way Bruno goes from screaming to singsong is great. The song is a bit rock, a bit electro pop, and a lot of fun to listen to over and over. “Woman Woman” is a catchy ode to a lover that showcases Bruno’s vocals, especially with the gripping line “last night I fell apart/choked on my drunken heart.”
Run is unconventional, interesting, and full of energy. There’s a lot to discover here, and Bruno has melded his very strong vocals with great lyrics and a lot of interesting electronic sounds to create an album that offers something new with each layer you peel back.
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
Without being too hyperbolic, Joel Plaskett’s latest album The Park Avenue Sobriety Test is perhaps his best yet.
The album is a tribute to the artist’s own life. The acronym The PAST is indicative of a
musician just about to turn 40, looking back over his years as he approaches
this milestone. With this in mind, it’s easy to assume that the album would be
melancholic, but in fact it’s far from it, with upbeat, clever and often downright funny lyrics.
The album is bursting with guests who bring their own energies to the album. Plaskett’s usual backing band Emergency, featuring bassist Chris Pennell, drummer Dave Marsh and new keyboardist John Boudreau, contributes. Mo Kenney, who is also currently touring with Plaskett, sings backing vocals, Erin Costello plays piano throughout, and Ian McGettigan plays the boards and congas.
Some stand-out tracks include “On a Dime,” which features a fiddle and includes catchy, nostalgia-inducing lyrics, “When I Close My Eyes,” and the title track “The Park Avenue Sobriety Test,” which manages to be both dark and a bit cynical, but is catchy and clever enough to leave listeners with a smile on their lips.
If you aren’t a Joel Plaskett fan already, you will be after listening to this album and immersing yourself in his quirky brand of folk-rock.
– Alyson Shane (Twitter @alysonshane)
Another Eternity showcases some experimentation with space-like beats and synth patterns, with Purity Ring's distinguishable sound infused within.
The Canadian synthpop duo finally released their second album; this time, the 10-tracks series was recorded with both members in the same province.
Tracks like “Repetition” take on a subtle witch-house vibe while songs like “Bodyache” are very dream pop-like. Soft, cutesy vocals are still present, but a strong and heavier range is thrown in the mix. Check out “Stillness in Woe” and “Sea Castle.” If you're feeling nostalgic, check out “Bodyache;” it’s the track most reminiscent of their first album, Shrines.
– Emily Fin (Twitter @RomaniRanch)
A Forest of Arms is a collection of profound and musically dynamic tracks that runs deeper than meets the ear.
The stunning acoustics on this 6th studio album by Toronto folk rock darlings Great Lake Swimmers are credited to lead singer/songwriter Tony Dekker’s unique recording process; he researched and sought out uncommon locations to record the new batch of songs for a unique and authentic feel. He used the natural reverbs and acoustics in Ontario’s Tyendinaga Caverns and Caves, layering haunting vocals with a cavernous-sounding band. The album’s production has a soothing yet haunting effect from start to finish.
The first track to stand out is “Shaking All Over.” This is an upbeat and musically dynamic song driven by an amazing percussion section in a 3/4 time signature. Miranda Mulholland’s superb fiddle leads can be heard throughout this tune, which really underlines GLS’ unique brand of folk rock. The lyrics are brilliant, which is something we have come to expect from Dekker on any release. The song closes out with what sounds like a Gerry Garcia tribute guitar solo, adding more mystery and seductive flavours to the track. “Don't Leave Me Hanging” is the best offering on this release, a delicate ballad with beautiful string orchestration and simple vocal harmonies that will stay with you and put you in a reflective trance. Its beauty is perfectly captured with the eerie and calming vocal orchestration. The fiddle tastefully intertwines with the double bass and other ambient instrumentation that leaves you breathless. “I Must Have Someone Else's Blues” is reminiscent of the former NYC band Luna; its catchy hooks and garage vocals weave nicely with the organs that roll along the track's 3.5-minute length. There's a little whistling that goes along with the dying chorus, giving it a touch of modern commercial appeal. You’ll be humming this one for hours.
The band’s incredible songwriting, clever lyrics and beautiful audio production haven’t faded since earlier releases like Ongiara and Lost Channels. A Forest of Arms is a timeless release that will stand up to any standout Canadian or cross border folk album this year.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Frank Black has announced a compilation album will be released for Frank Black and the Catholics. The band is considered to be an underappreciated gem in rock and roll and is quirky, sarcastic, and direct. The band was formed in 1998 after singer, songwriter, and guitarist Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV - or more commonly known as Frank Black – broke apart from The Pixies and tried out a solo career.
The Complete Recordings is a collection of all albums containing over one hundred songs, all of which have been remastered. There are seven CDs, including the bonus disc titled True Blue, containing demos from the Black Letter Days sessions. Unlike most albums, the songs are listed alphabetically.
While there’s the overall ‘90s hard rock sound or a folk vibe, there’s a mix of different sounds in the album, such as the playful and upbeat piano in “Are You Going My Way?” and the country sounding “Preacher’s Daughter.” The randomness of the album gives it a nice variety when listening to the album by mixing it up, rather than progressing through the different phases of the band.
Matthew Watt, widely known as Killawatt, shows the progression into a more mature artist with his debut album émigré. He is no longer simply putting out dubstep, but venturing into the realms of electronica, bass, and techno with his February 23 release.
This 12-track first offering from the Southsea, Portsmouth producer is experimental and heavy while maintaining a bit of a dreamlike quality. Creative and high-tempo containing sub-heavy beats, it’s something that even dubstep naysayers can’t help but keep listening to. The progressions both in each track and in between tracks is smooth, and listeners easily feel like it is all one long (though at times a bit overly heavy) tune. émigré is a rich and dynamic collection, taking listeners on a dance-heavy journey from dancefloor material to dubsteppier tracks, with heavy bass stabs being the consistent element in each track.
“Spinal Swarm” and “Schakk” are two of the best tracks on the album. Both contain Killawatt’s recognizable sound – floor-pumping beats with layer upon layer of melodies and instruments swirled in, on top of, and around them, creating pieces that work together without effort. Each track is crisp and clear, mixing genres without missing a beat.
This album will no doubt make the rounds in the U.S. and abroad. And while it may not make your “Summer Anthem” playlist, it undoubtedly will be something you listen to very often this summer.
– Lucy Rendler-Kaplan (Twitter @lucyrk78)
Ron Sexsmith is a great songwriter and his newest album Carousel One is full of lyrical highlights.
The album, which was produced by Jim Scott (Wilco, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters), is Sexsmith’s first since 2013’s more acoustic Forever Endeavour. The man who is often pegged as a downbeat balladeer has found himself in surprising new territory – he’s contented, according to the press release. And you can hear it in this collection of 14 new songs and two bonus tracks. “I didn’t realize until we were putting the songs together for Carousel One that this would be more outgoing; there's a lot more humour,” Sexsmith says in a statement. “I mean, there’s even a smiling picture on the cover, which I’ve never had before. I just hope it doesn’t scare the children.”
Carousel One has a 1970s feel, which makes it very easy to listen to. According to his press release, Sexsmith was, in fact, inspired by 1970s albums from artists such as Phoebe Snow and Gerry Rafferty.
The album starts off upbeat with “Sure As The Sun,” in which Sexsmith sings, “Sure as the sky is wide/ To hold every prayer inside/ As sure as the sky is/I know things are looking up/ Yes I know things are looking up,” followed by the first single, the very catchy “Saint Bernard.”
On the slower side, “All Our Tomorrows” is a beautiful song with gorgeous pedal steel and amazing lyrics like “All our tomorrows/ And all of our yesterdays/ Were days we had to borrow/ What has already been repaid.” Sexsmith’s songwriting also shines on the track “No One,” with lines like, “I'm gonna leave my worries down by the riverside/ Where my guardian angel resides/ He says I'm the losing kind/ Well takes one to know one.”
The use of the Hammond B3 organ is a nice touch, and between the music that fits each song perfectly, the strong writing, Sexsmith’s distinctive voice, and the mix of more upbeat and slower songs, Carousel One is an album fans will be playing often.
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
"That moment when something pure and constant is broken, where you're filled with vulnerability, that moment is what I live for in art," says George Lewis, Jr., aka Twin Shadow. "I've always chased that in my music, and when I find it I try to reign it back right before it falls over the edge."
Never has a Twin Shadow record hit that sweet spot like Eclipse. Brimming with dramatic tension and explosive, emotional release, it's an album of heartbreaking uncertainty and anthemic longing, a soundtrack to self-doubt and desire and the kind of unshakeable, late-night thoughts that hold the promise of sleep dangling forever just out of reach. Eclipse, Lewis' third album as Twin Shadow, follows up on the success of 2012's Confess, an international critical smash that Pitchfork hailed as Best New Music for its "brash lyrics [and] laser-focused songwriting." Uncut called "an impeccable sequel to an immaculate debut," and NME dubbed it a "thrill ride." Stunning performances everywhere from Coachella and Bonnaroo to live on Fallon and Conan cemented Lewis' status as one of the most charismatic and compelling frontmen in music today, but by the end of touring for Confess, he found himself burned out and in need of solitude.
"I had moved to California after finishing the last record, and a lot of my time after the tour was spent in this little house on top of a hill in Silver Lake, just kind of being very secluded and not really socializing much," Lewis recalls, who was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Florida before relocating to Brooklyn, where he adopted the Twin Shadow moniker.
In L.A. he spent time restoring an old car and working on his motorcycle, embracing the privacy and welcoming change of pace from the East Coast. He went for long drives around the city, listening to pop and hip hop radio for the first time in years. But when it came time to start thinking about his new record, the proximity of other homes clashed with his nocturnal recording tendencies, and so the hunt was on to find the perfect studio space, one where he could never, ever wake the neighbors.
"We had played a show at Hollywood Forever Cemetery," Lewis says. "They have concerts there and we had played in the Masonic temple on the property, and my manager and I were discussing how it would be cool if the cemetery had a place where we could set up a studio. At night there would be no one to disturb.'"
Lewis took a tour of the grounds and fell in love with the historic chapel at the far end of the sprawling cemetery.
"The Inside of it was empty, and there was this little, I guess it would have been a minister's quarters," he explains. "I could set up a control room there, and then I would have access to the large chapel space, as well. So we just jumped at the chance to do that and we started the whole process of building up my studio inside of this chapel in the cemetery."
It was a spooky setting, especially considering Lewis recorded, produced, and engineered most of the album by himself in the dark of night, ”but it was also a beautiful one that lent the music an epic, spacious quality. Eclipse is the biggest sounding Twin Shadow record to date, scaling monumental emotional heights and facing down intense anxieties and moments of naked vulnerability head-on with a remarkable clarity of vision.
Album opener "Locked and Loaded" sets the scene immediately, with dreamy synthesizers floating below Lewis' lush voice as he sings, "I'm all alone, phone under my pillow / Sleeping on a time bomb waiting for your phone call."
The song bears dual meanings for Lewis, who found himself at the crossroads of an uncertain relationship while simultaneously dealing with the hospitalization of his father during the making of the album.
"Almost all of the songs have this duality," he explains, "and that’s why I called the record ‘Eclipse.’ It feels like two elements passing each other, one blocking the other out and then resurfacing again, this idea of very small things eclipsing bigger things and blocking them out."
"I'm Ready" begins with a hushed, half-spoken verse that flashes back to the house in Silver Lake. "There's a boy in a car at the top of a hill looking down at L.A.," he whispers. "He's so close to the stars and the fires that start but he feels far away." An exultant chorus breaks through the insecurity and doubt of the verses, as Lewis triumphantly sings "I'm right here, I'm ready / I need this love" in one of the album's most memorable hooks.
"When The Lights Go Out" tackles secrets and infidelity in a digital age where privacy is a thing of the past, and "To The Top" is a towering ballad about the delusional desire to repeat past mistakes in hopes of preserving fleeting moments of pleasure and comfort. The album also includes Twin Shadow's first duet, "Alone," which features vocals from Lily Elise, while the dancefloor-ready "Old Love / New Love" features vocals from D'Angelo Lacy.
"Even when I try to make a fun dance track, it'll still end up boiling over with a vulnerable quality," says Lewis. "I think it's because I can be a bit reserved emotionally, I can be guarded and hold it all back in social settings, so with music, it's really important for me to let my guard down as much as possible."
In letting his guard down, Lewis has ultimately reached his greatest heights yet with Eclipse.
– Lucy Rendler-Kaplan (Twitter @lucyrk78)
If you didn’t know it, you would never guess San Francisco native Sonny Smith is nearing his mid-40s. Imaginative, quirky, and possessing the ability to spin stories akin to a young child full of wonder, this latest album showcases all that we’ve grown to love about Sonny & his band of merry pranksters, The Sunsets, over the past five years. Talent Night At The Ashram takes listeners on a musical trip (albeit a disjointed one at times) through daily life.
This album was initially envisioned as a compilation of short films that would be edited together into a full-length feature. As Smith was filming the videos, however, his concept never quite came to fruition and what emerged instead was an album full of little vignettes and ideas.
As he was writing the scripts and hiring the actors (even shooting a few of the clips), the scripts began to morph into songs. Are the spoken word clips really candid talk during recording, or are we fully buying into the story as we would if this were a movie we were watching, or a book we were reading?
On album opener “The Application,” Smith applies to be a human being (“I filled out the application to be a man”) with harmonies reminiscent of The Beach Boys, if a bit slower and sleepier.
“Happy Carrot Health Food Store” is one long (seven minutes) folk-rock descent down the rabbit hole. Presumably written about characters you find at your local Whole Foods Market, it then takes a sharp right into a conversation between Smith and his dog. While you expect the dog to respond humanly, as Smith is speaking to him as though he will, the dog just barks and then just as oddly, the artist tells the dog, “What, well, I’m going to swallow you,” because the dog is suddenly inside the beer Smith is drinking. Of course he is. Perhaps Wayne in the produce department could explain this better. After all, we’re told he’s got all the answers.
Listening to this album makes you think about why and how we listen to music. Is it to feel a certain feeling? Get away from feeling a certain feeling? Are you someone that likes to drive and zone out to music? This is not one of those albums. I’m not sure you can simply sit down and listen to it from beginning to end in any specific situation. It’s not background party music, it’s not ‘listen while you work’ music. But taken in bits, it’s fun and silly and while I don’t think it will force you out of your seat, it’s different and interesting and worth a listen. Over a few days.
The Oscars taught us it’s okay to “stay weird, stay different;” that we’re not alone; to embrace who we truly are; and to not worry about what anyone else thinks. Within minutes of Graham Moore reassuring us it’s okay to be ourselves, his words were trending on Twitter. While it’s unlikely Smith was sitting at home watching the awards, he certainly fully embraces his quirk; perhaps that is the final message to be gleaned from this album. Perhaps each of us can find ourselves in one of the characters depicted in Talent Night at the Ashram, be it a conspiratorial lover, or Erin at the health food store…but whoever we are, I think Sonny wants us to just go with it.
– Lucy Rendler-Kaplan (Twitter @lucyrk78)
For Aureate Gloom, Kevin Barnes took up residence in New York City in the wake of his separation from his wife and found his inspiration by walking the streets and imagining the soul of the city circa 1975. This comes through as clearly as any of Barnes’ recent driving influences. The band’s releases have often suffered from a kitchen-sink disorder. Too much inspiration, not enough focus. The band’s 2013 recordLlousy With Sylvianbriar found a convenient resting place where Barnes’ self-absorption took a backseat to musicality. The pop melodies eased into a mellow manic-depression where listeners could take solace in a return to accessibility and precision not heard since 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
The best of Montreal tracks remain the most rudimentary (it’s all relative). “Bassem Sabry,” the lead single from Aureate Gloom, thumps and bumps along a slick groove that bridges the gap between psychedelica and disco. Overall, however, Aureate Gloom takes a half-step back toward aural assault with discord, vocals and music in conflict. Barnes revels in a squalid vocal that competes for supremacy with a pleasant backing jam comprised of riffs on commonplace pop music. For example, 2012’s Paralytic Stalks found Barnes sonically assaulting some Princely funk laced with electronic and vocal asynchrony, but the result proved grating and occasionally off-putting, but also intermittently brilliant. So it goes with of Montreal.
Most of Aureate Gloom wallows into the seeds of the New York punk scene. Take some Richard Hell and the Voidoids, toss it with some of The Mumps and The Ramones, and drizzle with ‘60s pop vocals. “Monolithic Egress” thus serves as a poster child for the record. Raging guitar segues into dreamy psychedelica and back again. The lackadaisical outlier “Aluminum Crown” most resembles anything from Lousy With Sylvianbriar, but Barnes has again dared the listener to blink first. Where does musicality fit into the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness?
Identifying with Barnes’ groove du jour always proves to be a hit-or-miss endeavor, producing respect and admiration more often than love or hate. Track by track, there’s something to enjoy and something to confound. Listening to of Montreal on Aureate Gloom once again takes the form of an intellectual exercise rather than visceral enjoyment. Find the pulse, focus on the jams and let the rest of Barnes’ vision fall into place. Maybe it does… but is it still worth the effort? Yes. But that’s a far too straightforward answer than any of Montreal record deserves.
– James David Patrick (Twitter @30hertzrumble)
Thirty years before anyone would ever even conceive of Green Day, three guys got together and The Lookouts were born. The California punk band released a remastered album March 10 titled Spy Rock Road (and other stories). This new collection features the original album and a collection of tracks from their other albums, EPs, and never-before-heard demos.
Together with bassist (and, quite oddly, future forest ranger) Kain Kong, and with guest appearances by Tim Armstrong ( Rancid, Operation Ivy) and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, The Lookouts produced a legacy of two albums, two EPs, and several compilation tracks, the best of which are featured here. Also included is a track from The Lookouts’ first demo tape, recorded in 1985, which features (now) Grammy Award winner Tré Cool singing backups in his as yet unbroken three-and-a-half-octave soprano. At the time, Tré was only 12 years old and already a drumming master.
Spy Rock Road (and other stories) is a 24-song anthology, which opens with three tracks featuring Armstrong on guitar and backing vocals. The music alternates between mild to hardcore punk as the tempo speeds up, and the lyrics are simple, yet not as adolescent as some of the band members. Were The Lookouts ahead of their time? Would they have had a longer run than their five years, had they formed five years later? Perhaps. As we now know, the musicians certainly possessed the skills to go far. Will you add each song to your ‘favorites’ playlist on your iPod? Probably not, but for avid Rancid and Green Day fans it’s fun for the sake of history.
The best song on the album is “Story,” and, as story has it, this song was the first time Cool and Armstrong played together, eventually leaving the Lookouts to come together as original Green Day members.
– Lucy Rendler-Kaplan (Twitter @lucyrk78)
Howardian is the solo stage name for Japanther’s Ian Vanek. Vanek keeps his noise and art rock sound while switching gears to Howardian and able to keep his fans.
The album begins to sound like something from the ‘90s, but after a while, it sounds very flat and without emotion. It’s very gritty, dirty, and messy; soaked in distortion. Most songs are upbeat and have a positive vibe. There’s a lot of talking sing-song in it, and at times just banter. Most songs on the 11-track album are very short – less than three minutes.
Overall, it doesn’t sound like anything special and is rather simple, but it might be of interest to those who do enjoy gritty and distorted rock.
Former Yazoo frontwoman Alison Moyet has the voice. Not just “a” voice but “the” voice, the instantly recognizable, iconic voice. Her bluesy, often husky contralto voice sold more than two million records as a solo artist after launching Yazoo (or Yaz), the Platinum-selling synth-pop collaboration with Vince Clarke. After the painful breakup of Yazoo, Clarke went on to form Erasure, and Moyet ventured off on a somewhat reluctant solo career.
During her more than 30 years in the music business, the 53-year-old Alison Moyet has struggled through disputes with her label (which fought with her over radio-friendly chart toppers), bipolar disorder and crippling agoraphobia. These troubles pushed her further and further away from pop-culture relevance. 1994’s Essex would be her last record for nearly a decade. Upon finally being released from her contract with Sony, Alison signed with Sanctuary Records and released Hometime in 2002. That record returned her to the U.K. charts and garnered a nomination for a Mercury Music Prize. A return to notoriety in North America eluded her.
Her latest release, Minutes and Seconds – Live, features a collection of songs culled from Alison’s 2013-14 The Minutes Tour, a tour in support of her 2013 album The Minutes. On these recordings, Alison’s voice feels more fragile and alive than on her studio albums. There’s a reflection of her troubled personal life in the introduction to “Filigree” that resonates throughout these live cuts. Compare specifically the stripped-down version of Yazoo’s “Winter Kills” that appears on Minutes and Seconds versus the colder original. Alison’s voice tracks more deeply, mining the song for greater, untested emotion.
With age, Moyet’s vocal range has shifted away from pop-diva toward nightclub chanteuse. “Remind Yourself,” a cut from The Minutes, without too much imagination, could have been a Shirley Bassey recording for a James Bond film. Once Minutes and Seconds concludes with Yazoo’s “Situation,” it’s hard not to feel that she’s outgrown those Yazoo pop standards. “Situation” in particular feels hollow, like Moyet has outgrown and eclipsed her early successes.
Minutes and Seconds – Live should serve as a reminder to North American fans of Yazoo that Alison Moyet is still out there making great music and evolving as an artist. On these newer tracks specifically, Alison showcases all that her voice can do. There’s no harm in revisiting those newly recorded versions of the Yazoo hits either, if only to appreciate how far she’s come.
– James David Patrick (Twitter @30hertzrumble)
The test of a great album isn’t necessarily that it blows you away at first listen. The true mark of a timeless record is that it grows on you steadily and gets better the more you play it, a very wise fellow music fanatic (my dad actually) once told me. The Air Conditioned Nightmare, Doldrums’ latest work, is such an album.
As a collection of songs, Nightmare is a cohesive body, yet there is a wide variety of emotion and sound from track to track. The theme holding the album together is the struggle to live an authentic life despite societal dysfunction.
Many of the songs – particularly “Video Hostage,” “Funeral for Lightning,” “Blow Away,” “Industry City,” and “HOTFOOT” – deal with the threat of our imploding, soulless society, and Doldrums’ frontman Airick Woodhead’s response is to go deeper inside himself to escape it all. The lyrics on “HOTFOOT” sum this sentiment up: “I’m sleeping in in the age of unrest … If I cant pull myself back up, I’m gonna go deeper down into the mud.”
Some songs seem to draw inspiration from post-Kid A-era Radiohead, especially “Funeral For Lightning,” with its apocalyptic lyrics and distorted harmony vocals. The Doldrums’ style is uniquely their own, though – Woodhead’s inimitable high-strung voice paired with groovy beats and poetically dense lyrics are distinct.
While searching for these universal truths, the album tries to navigate the realms of humanity and relationships. On “Loops,” Woodhead laments how a relationship tends to come up against the same obstacles repeatedly, as though on a broken record. The song is made all the more interesting by being built on musical loops, making the song’s title self-reflective. In a similar vein, “Closer 2 U” is self-evident in its title: it aches to understand and inhabit the space of a lover, while expressing yearning for the love you haven’t yet experienced.
But amid all the seriousness, Woodhead knows how to have fun. On “My Friend Simjen” he is downright funny, professing his love for a computer program akin to ScarJo’s Samantha in the film HER (albeit without the sexy female voice) and then “dumping” it, saying that he has to “disconnect” because he has found someone new. Then on “We Awake,” he defiantly tries to have fun via his own imagination despite the apocalypse: “I heard a song the other morning. It said there would be no tomorrow/but we have each other here/I don’t care” and then later he adds: “Remember to sing/I’m ready to start again.” And finally at the song’s closing, as though to conclude: “Let’s have fun.”
Woodhead digs deep on this second album, and the fruits of his labour over the past few years working under the moniker of Doldrums are blooming. A good thing, because his label is SubPop, which was once home to a little band called Nirvana. Here he has the opportunity to try to appeal to the mass audience, but he stays weird – the mark of a true artist.
– Andrea Pare
Hailing from Athens, Georgia, drummer and composer Louis Romanos and his quartet perform 12 of Romanos’ compositions that focus on melody and group interplay more than instrumental prowess. There is a sense of rhythmic variety that ranges from the intense 7/4 grooves of the opening track “Songo,” the spirited and dancing “Klezmer,” right to the pensive and thoughtful qualities of tracks such as “Far Away” and “Spiritual.”
Louis Romanos is a strong composer who has a solid sense of melody, rhythm, and variance from tune to tune. It helps to have a supporting cast involving trumpeter Alex Noppe, guitarist Dan Sumner and bassist Neal Starkey. They’ve become a cohesive, well-led unit that enable Louis’ creations to come to life, unfolding as a story with succinct chapters waiting to be revealed from page to page (or track to track in this case).
It can be a real artistic risk for an up-and-coming jazz band to release only original music; it would have helped to engage the listener with a familiar cover or two to draw them into the music. The disc could use more swing numbers to showcase what the band can do with their musical instruments.
The compositions tell musical stories that leave it open to listener interpretation. Upon first listen, the interplay between the musicians gives the impression of a band with one united mind to convey a message with each piece. “Take Me There” is a fine debut by a talented drummer, composer, and bandleader that will help him make inroads in the jazz scene of today.
Dope Stars Inc. is an alternative and industrial rock band from Rome that was founded in 2002. The band has released four albums and three EPs, along with their upcoming TeraPunk. Described as having a “bratty rock’n’roll sound and attitude” by their biography, and known as “pioneers” for their genre, the band has seen a fair amount of success by touring in Europe, being nominated for awards in magazines, appearing on the front page of The Pirate Bay, and keeping control over their distribution.
The album is hardcore from the start – right when you press play, heavy synths, bass, and drums blast from the speakers. While beats and certain lyrics are catchy and repetitive, a lot of the songs sound very much similar after a while because of the lack of using different notes.
Some people may find the heavy chords and synth combination a headache, and others may see it as the future of music. Overall, TeraPunk is a take-it-or-leave-it kind of album.
Constellations, the jazz/funk interpretation of Björk’s 2007 Volta, goes beyond categorizations. Drummer Karl Latham, trumpeter Ryan Carniaux, bassist Mark Egan, and guest keyboardist Nick Rolfe teamed up to perform 12 songs from the Icelandic avant-garde pop star’s seventh studio album, truly reflecting the nature of the iconic pop artist.
From the opening track “Hope,” there are shades of free-flowing funk with the intense percussion, funky bass lines, sparse keyboards, and free-blowing trumpet. It gets into more out-of-space territory through its longer tracks, especially on “Desired Constellation,” which opens with nearly five minutes of atmospheric synthesizers before locking into a funk groove.
The album uses the influences of later Miles Davis and (to an extent) Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time to create otherworldly landscapes that take the listener into a different world. It highlights how unconventional Björk is in her musical career by constantly redefining and reshaping her music and creativity to take it to new levels and territories. But be forewarned: ‘Constellations’ is not your traditional jazz-fusion record with the expected constant grooves and singable melodies. It’s a record that carries you into another world, challenging your musical sensibilities as it takes you on the journey. Constellations is part of the new jazz movement that is shaping how we listen and evolve our music sensibilities in the 21st century and beyond.
Shadows in the Night is Bob Dylan’s 36th studio album. It was released by Columbia Records on February 3, 2015 and contains 10 songs originally made famous by Frank Sinatra, though Dylan himself chose these songs in this arrangement for this album.
From the first song “I’m a Fool To Want You,” Dylan sets the tone for the entire set, evoking feelings of lost love, sadness, and melancholy made even more emotional by his gravelly (though less ragged than previously) tone and wistful tempo. For those that gave up trying to understand the Dylan of late, straining to make sense of mumbled lyrics, you should give him one last chance. His voice on this album evokes the Dylan we came to love way back when. Song after song, Dylan’s enunciation is clear as he sings each word with purposeful meaning. Dylan proves that at 73, he is still a singer - strong of voice and just as able to stay one step ahead of all who try to pigeonhole him or believe he’s nearing the end of what his voice can handle as ever.
The songs on this album are not his, yet they are. Having never heard Frank Sinatra sing any of the songs showcased on Shadows in the Night, one wouldn’t think twice if told these songs come from Dylan’s own writing. He has made a career of pining for women he once loved, writing about some of them with biting lyrics ruing the day he met them, and regretting parts of his past. When a despondent man asks “What’ll I do with just a photograph to tell my troubles to?” in “What’ll I Do,” you easily see this as something Dylan would have written in a song fit for Blood on the Tracks.
Unlike the Dylan we have come to love, this album is short – 10 songs lasting fewer than 40 minutes played all the way through. An homage for sure to Frank Sinatra’s time, when albums were shorter and didn’t include those Dylan-esque songs that can last over 10 minutes. It would be easy to brush over this record and stick it in the tribute album category, but this is not that. Dylan is paying tribute to Sinatra by choosing these songs, but taking them and becoming one with them, making each one his own. In doing so, in a way only few can, the listener is drawn in, carefully listening to the story he spins for us, feeling as you imagine the man in each song felt as these times in his life were occurring. In the first notes of the first song your attention is called to the sharp difference between Dylan and Sinatra, as there is not the sweeping production Frank Sinatra used, but rather Dylan’s usual five-piece touring and studio band. For those of us who have literally followed Bob Dylan, you recognize the precision and mastery of Charlie Sexton on guitar. Making up the rest of the band is bassist Tony Garnier, guitarist Stu Kimball, percussionist George G. Receli and perhaps the most notable of all, the sound of Donny Herron on pedal steel guitar.
Esteemed and experienced are the members of the band. On this album their sound is raw, almost as if you were listening to them play at an intimate gathering of their closest friends. The production, or lack thereof, on this release also bolsters that feel, adding to the realism. Recorded live, listeners are drawn even closer as we pick up on paper rustling and the light catch of Dylan’s breath.
Worth exploring is the marketing route Dylan embarked upon for this album’s release. Personally, with over 25 years of professional background in marketing, I have to admit I honestly have not yet solidified my thoughts on this. Rather, I prefer to pose questions, both to myself to ponder and to you all, to crowdsource your thoughts. The premise began with Bob Dylan choosing 50,000 AARP members at random to send this album to, free of charge. The sole interview Dylan took the time to give went to AARP, rather than the obvious Rolling Stone. This begs a few questions:
Does Bob Dylan not believe these songs are as timeless as they truly are, and that his target market falls solely with the AARP crowd?
Is Dylan finding (or subconsciously believing) that millennials are no longer fans or discovering his music?
Have we all really gotten this old?!
As a lifetime Bob Dylan fan, I loved this album. I loved hearing Dylan SING and I will always love songs that tell a story. At the same time, this album evokes deep feelings of woe; the songs are slow and inherently sorrowful. I kept waiting for the next song to lift us up, to give us a short break from feeling all the feelings, the next “Like a Rolling Stone,” but that song never came. This is a heavy album.
Buy this CD. Seriously. If you’re still on the fence, download these three songs first: "I'm a Fool to Want You," "That Lucky Old Sun," "Some Enchanted Evening." (THEN go buy the CD)
– Lucy Rendler-Kaplan (Twitter @lucyrk78)
And The War Came, the latest release by Shakey Graves, is a tremendously powerful piece of folk revival. While many folk singers suffer from penning albums that seem bland and uninteresting after a few tracks, the songs on his latest album never fall into the trap of too much minimalism. They display a distinct, mature, and easily recognizable style.
The album opens with “Only Son,” a quiet piece that sets an intimate tone and has a distinctly Lumineers-style quality about it. A favourite track is “Dearly Departed,” which features a duet with Esmé Patterson and witty, charming dialogue. Even more extroverted tracks such as “Pansy Waltz” and “Call It Heaven” still feel personal thanks to striking guitar and graceful chord progressions.
This record establishes Shakey Graves as an artist to be reckoned with, particularly due to the strength of his songwriting. The album is worth several replays at the very least, and establishes long-term interest to any newcomers not already familiar with his talent.
– Alyson Shane (Twitter @alysonshane)
S, the new EP from British singer-songwriter Emmy The Great, packs a punch. The album features four songs with names starting with the letter s and, more importantly, offers up powerful lyrics and catchy pop.
According to Bella Union, S was written in Salt Lake City, Tokyo, Hong Kong, LA, New York and London, and it does have a worldly feel. “As I wrote the songs I began to reflect more and more (about) the world that I saw around me: incredibly bright, technologically breathtaking,” Emmy (whose given name is Emma-Lee Moss) explains on the label’s website. “I am curious about being a person in this world, and I tried to write that into the music.”
The EP starts off so strong with “Swimming Pool,” which has a haunting quality. Maybe it’s Emmy’s beautiful voice; maybe it’s the rippling keys. It could be the lyrics, or maybe it’s the dark addition of Tom Fleming’s deep voice – either way, this is a song that sticks with me, and I expect we’ll hear a lot of it in the coming year.
Emmy follows that gem up with “Social Halo,” a catchy tune with moody guitar that opens with the great line: “Oh no, everything’s moving so close, I’m starting to lose my social halo.”
Synthesizers help build up the energy in the third track, “Solar Panels,” which is really catchy and has a global feel.
The final song on the album, “Somerset (I Can’t Get Over),” is another highlight. It’s beautiful and sad and includes references to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams. “Come outside, let’s talk about something that’s real, like, please don’t get over me,” Emmy sings in her crystal-clear voice.
S is a catchy, colourful EP that showcases Emmy’s strong pop writing and beautiful voice, and if it is a preview for a new full-length album, it makes me really excited to hear more.
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
The return of Danko Jones comes with great timing, challenging a music scene that is overrun by shoeless, whistling and clapping hipster bands. Their new release Fire Music cuts through the crap and brings headbanging back to center stage, leaving jaws on the floor and moshpits raging. The opening track “Wild Woman” kicks you in the gut by ramming HUGE guitar riffs down your throat, along with crushing basslines and monster drum beats. Lead man Danko Jones delivers in spades with wicked power behind his vocals and gripping lyrics, while pulling off guitar heroics on every song. The band’s AC/DC simplicity is what keeps your attention; there’s no fancy soloing or trickery, it’s just vicious hard rock that’s easy to listen to. “Piranha” exemplifies the power this band can unleash. The song has shades of Motorhead with bloodcurdling screams and crushing drums. The chorus is like an H-Bomb that will decimate your speakers while D.J. screams “She’s a Piranha.” “Gonna Be A Fight Tonight” is definitely one of the bigger tunes on the album and is hit-single worthy; it’s a hard rock anthem of the highest order. This song could be played for Hockey Night In Canada or before a UFC match, and the video game industry will likely scoop it up before long. For anyone into shit-kicking hard rock, Danko Jones’ Fire Music is a MUST!
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Individ is the sixth studio album from The Dodos and was recorded hot on the heels of their last release, 2013’s Carrier. The 2013 release was an album that seemed haunted by the death of previous occasional contributing guitarist Chris Reimer. Invidid, by comparison, feels more like a follow-up to 2008’s Visiter.
The album opens with “Precipitation,” their toast to whatever the future may hold, with lyrics like “until now, there was a reason/ Let go of it/ It’s not relevant.”
“Goodbyes and Endings,” which falls right in the middle of the album, stands out among the rest of the songs, featuring multiple time signatures stitched together to create a complex yet catchy melody. The other standout track is “Competition,” which feels frenzied and anxious with driving percussion and a confessional feel to the lyrics.
Though The Dodos haven’t produced a bad album to date, Individ can certainly be recognized as their first great album in quite some time.
– Alyson Shane (Twitter @alysonshane)
Billy Talent’s Hits is released as “a celebration of the songs we released over the years for our loyal fans to reminisce over,” according to the band’s official website. The album features 12 popular tracks such as “Nothing to Lose” and “Devil in a Midnight Mass” from their previous albums and two new, never-before-released tracks “Chasing the Sun” and “Kingdom of Zod.”
While some would argue that a greatest hits album for a band still creating and producing music is a bit premature, it also serves as a nostalgic reminder as to why they should release one. The selection of old songs combined with the two new ones showcases the band’s catchy riffs and ability to tell a good story and project emotions through song.
“Kingdom of Zod” serves as an anthem, chanting “it’s a lie,” telling everything about society where to go with a few anarchy undertones familiar in punk music. It gets the listener pumped and full of emotion while listening and will become a new hit, hands down. “Chasing the Sun” is more slow and melodic, reflecting on the loss of a friend close to the band and the difficulty of letting someone go. It’s a nice change to the usual angry and angst-filled songs.
Billy Talent’s Hits will have you taking a trip down memory lane, and reminding you that Canadian music is much better than people claim.
Hundred Waters is known for its experimental sound, and is featured under genres such as electronic, alternative R ‘n’ B, and club music. The release of its second album, The Moon Rang Like a Bell, brings something new to the table. Interesting techniques like auto tune are used in a tasteful manner and incorporate layers of synths and piano, overlapping with vocals. The music, much like the album cover, is very abstract to say the least.
The Moon Rang Like a Bell features songs that are very haunting, soothing, and melodic. Describing such a sound in an objective manner efficiently can be difficult. There are some songs that have such a strong electronic component that make them sound otherworldly, while others more like ambiance suited for lounging around the house.
The unusual sound and vibes are not for everyone, but is very much worth listening to while going about daily activities.
Hundred Waters will be performing at Lee’s Palace on Feb. 26, 2015.
The Who Hits 50! Is a compilation album with two CDs celebrating 50 years of the English band, accompanied by a tour in Britain. The album features all sorts of songs the band has released over the years, including hits like “My Generation” and “Baba O’Riley,” along with lesser-known songs like “Dogs” and “Relay.”
It’s great to hear a best-of album every now and then, but The Who has several greatest hits albums, questioning how often you can milk a cow before it runs dry. While it’s their 50th anniversary, it makes sense to release a compilation album, and worth giving a listen to considering the mix of classic songs and unfamiliar ones, ranging from their first album, My Generation, to their 2006 release, Endless Wire. There are several mono, edited, live, and remixed versions of songs featured on the album as well.
New and die-hard The Who fans will enjoy the album, but casual listeners may not have the same experience.
Los Angeles foursome Prima Donna is back with an impressive 11 song studio album. Nine Lives and Forty-Fives features eight original songs, and three covers: “I’m On Fire” (Dwight Twilley), “Rock and Roll is Dead” (The Rubinoos) and “Rip Her To Shreds” (Blondie).
The band shows their range throughout this, their 4th album, starting with solid pop punk in “Pretty Little Head,” then taking you on a head-bopping journey where they show you there’s no pigeon-holing them as simple “glitter glam-rockers.” Each song is solid and well-produced, which is to say, it doesn’t come across as overly produced. It’s lively and fun, if not a bit genre-bending, harkening back to what I’ve always pictured the 70’s Los Angeles music scene must have been like to be a part of. Their love of the city is clear, it’s mentioned in almost every original track, and while I can imagine those without the LA wanderlust might find that a bit cloying, I enjoy it, much as I do the raw parts of the city this album reminds me of.
Opening the album, “Pretty Little Head” is a strong solid pop punk song, inviting you to listen to more. It starts and finishes strong with gusto and contains a fun little breakdown in between that harkens back to ‘50s Jazz.
“Living in Sin” is as cool as it gets with a melody that begs you to sing along to and guitar riffs that make even me want to pick up an instrument. The lyrics are relatable and clever, earning it’s place on my “favorites” playlist.
While the lyrics in “Rubbish” didn’t grab me, the pure punk sound certainly did. It’s upbeat with an English feel that easily reminds you why we look forward to Prima Donna shows.
– Lucy Rendler-Kaplan (Twitter @lucyrk78)
Punk was declared dead not long after it exploded in popularity in the U.K. and the U.S. It was dismissed as a fad and no longer taken seriously as a revolutionary force. By the late ‘70s Punk artists and those influenced by punk went off into different creative directions; the collective term for this evolution in music is postpunk. Postpunk is not a genre per say; the bands that sprung out from this movement experimented and hardly sounded alike – many incorporating into their punk foundations R&B/funk styles, synthesizers, reggae, jazz and just about any sounds they deemed to be against the grain at the time.
Many postpunk outfits later ended up in the mainstream as success stories by making their music more accessible (Echo & the Bunnymen, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Wang Chung, Modern English, Adam Ant) but there was a cluster of bands who would have none of that. This rump of postpunk agit-pop bands embraced radical sounds and radical hard-left lyrics, championing socialism and change and railing against conformity, income inequality, and poverty. Gary Clail and Tackhead, Gang of Four, The Fall and Wire were in that group and so was The Pop Group. The Pop Group, led by provocateur lyricist/vocalist Mark Stewart, were uncompromising in their approach. Listening to their only two proper releases from those days – 1979’s “Y” and 1980’s “For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?” is often painful (like having a filling put in) and just as rewarding. Songs like “Forces of Oppression,” “Feed the Hungry,” and “We Are All Prostitutes” make you genuinely uncomfortable as Stewart growls and rants uncomfortable truths over an avant-garde medley of chaos that is the music. Yet afterwards you realize that you’ve just experienced a call to arms of sorts. The Pop Group was a musical Occupy Wall Street way ahead of its time.
Forward to 2015 and the band’s third album, Citizen Zombie, recorded because progress and human rights have taken a backseat to militarism, corporate greed and hate and that pisses Mark Stewart off. This is his way of fighting back. Citizen Zombie is actually more accessible musically than anything previously released by The Pop Group. “Mad Truth” has a disco beat, “Nowhere Girl” has a poppy ambient feel, and “S.O.P.H.I.A” is a dance track. Many of the tracks have infectious melodies and catchy refrains. Frankly, much of it sounds like Arcade Fire and this is a good thing. Yet subversion oozes from every pore of this album; every note and every lyric. Except this time, it’s not as blunt and overt; it’s radicalism by stealth. Citizen Zombie is a seemingly gentle bear sniffing the snacks in your palm, before he tears your arm off.
In times of perpetual war, poverty, a shrinking middle class and the greed of the one per cent, albums like Citizen Zombie are important. Or as Stewart put it in a recent interview when told that we no longer live in political times: “Not where I live. We’re engaged. People understand that they’re being fed bullshit and want change.”
– Matthew Coe Hill
The Gothsicles’ fourth album Squid Icarus, released in December of last year by Negative Gain Productions, lives up to the standards of humor and cleverness we’ve come to expect from the ‘sicles. The added treat with this Lovecraftian geek culture dance party (as it’s been referred to by the folks over at Negative Gain) is all of the big-name producers who had a hand in the album. Faderhead, Christ Analogue, Rotersand, Assemblage 23, Haujobb, the Dark Clan; and collaborators including Zoog von Rock of Angelspit and Peter Spilles of Project Pitchfork all contributed.
This album has a little bit of something for pretty much anyone who even remotely likes anything resembling industrial music and/or has a sense of humor. Even if you can’t necessarily relate to the songs, you’re likely to appreciate them. Brian “dark_NES” (NES from Nintendo Entertainment System) Graupner, founder and core member of this self-described ultra sweaty industrial dance dorkstorm, does all programming and vocals for the band. Graupner, it seems, is brilliant and an aficionado of all things geek-culture, as is evidenced by both the music and lyrics. My educated guess is that titling the album Squid Icarus is a nod to the online game Guns of Icarus (Squid is a ship in that game). Although to be fair, it could be a nod to the Icarus, son of Daedalus of Greek mythology. I’m placing my bet on the game.
Graupner doesn’t take himself too seriously. Included in the 14-track album is “Black T-shirt” (listed as a NIN cover, and produced and mixed by Josh from CNTRLSHFT), for example, is about the plethora of black T-shirts one sees in the industrial crowd (“the cornerstone of all industrial merch”, Graupner says) – sometimes with a slight variation (he mentions both V-necks or sleeveless shirts, for example). Imparting sage advice for finding a good deal (“I’ll stock up on the three-packs from Calvin Klein too ‘cause three for under 30 is a good value”) as well as what might be the logic behind wearing them (“it always looks clean ‘cause you can’t see the dirt”), the lyrics are undeniably honest.
A close second in the silliness category is “Cthulhu Fhartwagon”, produced and mixed by Dan Clark of the Dark Clan, Stromkern, Siv, and formerly of Null Device, among others, reminding us all to never let Graupner borrow our vehicle, even in the direst of straights. Relating his experience while using his brother’s van to transport the band’s equipment to a show and polluting it with the “hella bad gas (they get) from drinking beer by the buttload” while finding all kinds of weird things strewn about the vehicle (such as “a glass with the inscription ‘all-American sports fan’, colouring books, and six bucks in change”), the song also manages to (imperfectly) rhyme the word “malady”, a feat that is noteworthy all by itself.
Angelspit’s Zoog von Rock appeared musically and vocally on “This Club Is Closed,” and the track was produced and mixed by Krischan Wesenberg of Rotersand. This one is an upbeat electronic track telling people to get the hell out in numerous ways from the perspective of someone trying to clear a dance club. The 11 additional songs include “Ultrasweaty” (again mixed and produced by Krischan), which tells a little bit about the experience of seeing the Gothsicles live (they “get ultrasweaty”) and instrumentals “Chip Replacement Surgery” and “Slime-Half.” Introducing the album is “Super Scary Action Figure (I Want to Eat Your Brain)”, which is mixed and produced by Tom Shear of Assemblage 23 and pays homage to a talking Venom action figure that Graupner came across at Powers Comics in Green Bay after it had been recalled due to being a bit too scary for kids and promises to stick in your head forever after you hear it once. Another highlight is “Give Me One More Chance to get the High Score, then We Can Go,” produced and mixed by Wade Alin of Christ Analogue, likely relatable for die-hard video game fans. “Bloodlust Software Was Awesome,” produced and mixed by Mangadrive, gives props to Bloodlust, a video game development company founded by two high school students.
The album ends with super-secret hidden track “Riding Roller Coasters with Peter Spilles,” which has nothing to do with roller coasters and is half in German. The title refers to an event that apparently did actually happen according to Graupner’s Facebook post from July 2012 about riding roller coasters with the Project Pitchfork frontman. The music for all numbers is entirely electronic, and some of them sound like they could be backing tracks for video games, which is absolutely appropriate.
All told, this album is definitely worth a listen. As a side note, its production was funded by a kickstarter campaign that came in well over its goal, leading me to believe the Gothsicles are onto something that many people appreciate.
– Kathy Nichols
I first heard Caribou a couple years back with his 2010 album Swim. I was immediately obsessed with the dreaminess of his deep house and techno beats.
The man behind Caribou is Dan Snaith, and this is his sixth studio album. Our Love is his fourth as Caribou (his other stages names are Manitoba and Daphni). The theme for this album is obvious: love. And like falling in love, the first track "Can't Do Without You" will leave you breathless, as the buildup is beautifully dramatic. This is one of the best tracks on the album.
While Swim was more happily psychedelic, Our Love is much more reflective. The lyrics are thoughtful and personal with tracks like "All I Ever Need," where we hear Snaith's gentle voice singing "I can't take it, the way you treat me wrong. It's not right girl." The first single, "Our Love," is focused and somehow methodically groovy. "Second Chance" is another standout track, which features Jessy Lanza's vocals. It showcases some more R&B influences with a slower beat. There are a couple of more experimental deep house tracks: "Mars," and "Silver," which will take some time to grow on you.
Our Love is definitely worthwhile. It’s similar to Caribou's previous work, but also introduces a more personal side of Snaith. It's emotionally thoughtful and straightforward, and will definitely remind you of all the kinds of love out there.
– Raquel Dreesen (Twitter @raquelmaxine)
The king of industrial doom rock is back in top form for 2015 promoting another set of sick, disturbing, and irresistible tracks on his new album The Pale Emperor. Marilyn Manson just unleashed his 13th studio album and has carefully managed NOT to sound dated or out of favour. This album is better than ever and will immediately grab your attention.
Standout tracks include opening track “Killing Strangers,” which has intriguing and sinister lyrics of death, love and destruction. The crushing drums, bass, and guitars pound heavily with slow and sludgy rhythms polished by Manson’s demonic vocal track. The second track, “Deep Six,” is a tune reminiscent of Manson's biggest career hit, “The Beautiful People.” Its monstrous pre-chorus hits you within the first thirty seconds, making it one of the best tracks of the lot, hands down. The song quickly reels the listener tightly into the album's devilish allure with no chance of escape. Another track that really blows up in your face is “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles.” This track is a reflection of Marilyn’s real-life persona and his similarities to the folklore legend and how he collects dammed souls as his appointment to Satan. This is a brilliant song with a delicious chorus that will stick in your mind like a curse.
It seems as though Manson has not come down from his peak, instead he's still releasing extremely strong and potent records in the way he only knows how: dark, disturbing, and deadly, regardless of the current trends. For fans of Marilyn Manson and industrial metal this album is a MUST.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
I Love You Honeybear is a well thought out album. The slow romantic music, accompanied by realistic lyrics of relationships and the American education system, makes for an interesting album.
A year after recording a demo, Joshua Tillman, also known as Father John Misty, started his career as a singer by opening for Damien Juardo. Father Misty would hand out CDs of his songs at Juardo’s shows, which later became I Will Return. His first album to be properly distributed was Minor Works in 2006. It wasn’t until 2012 that Tillman released Fear Fun under the name Father John Misty.
I Love You Honeybear isn’t your average indie album. The music sounds like that from Elton John or John Lennon post Beatles, however, when you listen to the lyrics, the album is actually a satirical and sarcastic collection of viewpoints and stories. With lyrics like, “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity, but what I fail to see is what that’s got to do with you and me.” and “Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in,” are both funny and smart. There are very few clichés, which makes it rather refreshing to listen to and more realistic than the average love song.
There is a scientific theory that nothingness is inherently unstable. That something eventually must happen. As such, our universe — and the Big Bang — necessarily had to occur. Indeed, the past decade of quietude from Sleater-Kinney was necessarily unsustainable. This is evidenced by their explosion back into existence with a big bang of energy and raw power. And damn does it sound good.
No Cities to Love is a 10-track suite of fast-rocking songs that comes on hard. There is an urgency apparent in each tune (especially on “Fangless” and “Surface Envy”). It sounds as if each member desperately needed to make this album, despite their busy schedules. And busy schedules they’ve had: since the band’s hiatus in 2006, Corin Tucker (vocals/guitar) put out two albums with the Corin Tucker Band; Carrie Brownstein (guitar/vocals) formed Wild Flag and stars in the comedy series Portlandia; and Janet Weiss (drums) recorded and toured with Wild Flag and Quasi, among a few others. With all that going on, one would imagine finding time for Sleater-Kinney would be rather difficult. If the trio were going to make this work, they were going to need to want it as bad as their fans wanted it. And that’s exactly what can be heard: dire and purposeful rock. As Brownstein says in the band’s press release, "we sound possessed on these songs, willing it all – the entire weight of the band and what it means to us – back into existence."
Current fans will notice some differences, though. The musicians’ styles, skills and inclinations have had time to ferment since The Woods (2005), which was itself a departure from their earlier work. Tucker’s vocals retain little of their signature wail, although her voice sounds more nuanced and mature — a bittersweet eschewance of her riot grrrl roots. She is also sharing vocal duties with Brownstein, whose voice sounds more confident and powerful this time around. One such example is on the single “Bury Our Friends,” a track with a big, rhythmic riff and anthemic chorus (which is pretty much how the rest of the album can be described).
Ultimately, No Cities is not a comeback; it’s a reinvention, a continuation. It’s the sound of a new band exploiting all the benefits of a matured relationship between the players. So when I go see them at the Sound Academy on March 2, I almost wouldn’t be disappointed if they only play their new stuff. Okay I admit, that’s too hyperbolic, but only because the rest of the Sleater-Kinney catalogue is amazing. No Cities to Love stands on its own merits; it has already cemented itself as one of the mandatory listens of 2015.
– RJ Vandrish (twitter @rjvandrish)
Ty Segall gives a head banging, body shaking, ear splitting good time on their Live In San Francisco LP.
Segall began his solo career in 2008 with the release of Horn the Unicorn, the same year as his debut album, Ty Segall. He’s released seven studio albums and is well known for combining different genres such as garage rock, noise rock, and punk. The San Francisco-based artist reflects the scene in the 10 featured tracks, recorded at Rickshaw Stop.
Segall includes the use of screaming, short instrumental solos, and simple but catchy riffs to bring out a ‘90s punk vibe that was presumed dead long ago. At times the songs seem to be a little repetitive, and others a bit unstructured, but the music is something to rock out to with the hyper and energetic feel. Many of the songs come from the Slaughterhouse album.
Because the album is live ,the sound quality isn’t the best, but there’s a bit more interaction with the audience than on most live albums.
While the grungy noise rock sound isn’t for everyone, Live In San Francisco is worth listening to.
There is something magical about music that is both experimental and easy to dance to. Think Animal Collective, Dan Deacon, Caribou, or Doldrums. These are artists who know how to open your mind up but also make you shake your rump. Torontonian trio Absolutely Free (vocalist Matt King, Drummer Moshe Rozenberg, and Michael Claxton on bass and synth) know this recipe too, and on their self-titled album debut, they cook up eight groovy tracks that are healthy for your body and discerning musical palate.
Although the album came out in October last year, Absolutely Free has been performing their ethereal brand of music since 2011. Until the album release, fans have had few singles to tide them over: 2012’s “UFO/ Glass Tassel” and 2013’s “On The Beach/ Clothed Woman, Sitting.”
It has been well worth the wait. Produced on the Arts & Crafts label by Mike Haliechuk of Fucked Up, the album is a vibrant work with many layers of rhythms to chew on.
The artistic nature of the album is evident- from the album cover art (designed by King) and the title of the songs, such as “Spiral Jetty,” perhaps referring to the ever-changing earthwork sculpture in Utah, designed by Robert Smithson.
Like the Jetty, Absolutely Free’s songs move outwards in space and are not static but ever evolving.
Other songs, like “Earth II” and “Burred Lens” also evoke a spacy feeling, and combined with bleeps and bloops of the synthesizer, it makes the listener feel as though they are on board a UFO.
Their shows are pretty far out and varied as well. They’ve played classic TO venues like the Long Winter series at The Great Hall and the Opera House, but also less conventional ones like The Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre where they played poolside, the Revue Cinema and where they scored a sci-fi film, and the TIFF Street Festival where they played live alongside Norman McLaren films.
Their next stop before their European tour is the warehouse-style Geary Lane.
If you’re looking for a good buzz – minus the side effects – next Friday Jan. 30, this is your ideal destination.
– Andrea Pare
With a title like Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, it’s no surprise that Panda Bear’s new album features eerily haunting sounds throughout the entire album. In true Panda Bear style, Noah Lennox uses layering techniques to create an ethereal, otherworldly experience for his audience. His experimental nature is a staple throughout the album where he creates a concoction of animal calls, sounds from nature and various musical instruments.
Change is at the centre of Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper. Rather than death, The Grim Reaper in this album is symbolic of the end of one chapter and the beginning of another for Panda Bear.
Panda Bear’s trademark sound, however, seems to have lost its way on this album. There were a few solid tracks like “Tropic of Cancer” and “Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker” that showcased soothing melodies and angelic harp music.
But the majority of songs on the album are far too busy and repetitive. It’s especially difficult to understand the lyrics in the midst of howling dogs and blaring trumpets.
Though Panda Bear’s daring choices are commendable, sometimes less complex options are the way to go.
– Aileen Ormoc
The newest gem from Wilco titled Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014 gives fans a glimpse into the bevy of songs that never made the cut. With themes of heartbreak, pure ecstasy, and the pains of growing up, there is a diverse range of tracks on the album.
The never-before-heard studio and live recordings encompass one end of the spectrum to another featuring bubbly, up-tempo tracks like “Monday” and slower acoustic numbers like “No More Poetry.” The simplicity of the album is stunning with the majority of the songs relying on nothing but the guitar and lead singer Jeff Tweedy’s raspy vocals.
Although this album doesn’t feature Wilco’s greatest hits, there are a number of stellar tunes featured, like “Hummingbird,” “What Light,” and “You and I,” which are guaranteed to have you singing along.
Wilco’s ability to transport their listeners to a specific place and time through song is impeccable. Songs like “Box Full of Letters” struck a chord with me because of its intimate and personal nature. The live numbers on this album were incredible; however, I would have liked to see more of those included.
Given that this was my first time listening to Wilco, I was impressed with everything I heard. I definitely recommend giving Wilco’s newest album a listen if you are looking for something to bob your head to.
– Aileen Ormoc
The new year is off to a great start with the release of The Decemberists’ new album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World. It has been a long five years since the release of The King is Dead and unfounded rumours the band's long-planned hiatus was code for their secret intent to break up.
Well, here we sit in 2015 and the new album is simply terrific. The Decemberists are a welcome musical distraction for the next few weeks of winter while we patiently wait for spring.
This album is refreshing and pensive. The music video for “Make You Better,” released in December and starring Nick Offerman, is very manly and will tickle you pink. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend investing five minutes of your time to see the musings of Mr. Franz Lieberwurstshlesser, who is very apathetic to the great hit “Make You Butter,” and asks deep philosophical questions about the meaning of existence.
It is important to note this recording is not Picaresque or The Hazards of Love. A Terrible World, What a Beautiful World showcases a cohesive collection of songs filled with the same brilliant lyricism and melodies of the past, but stops short of making them fill an overarching collective theme.
“Till the Water is All Long Gone,” “12-17-12,” and “Carolina Low” are the highlights of this great release. There is just something magical about them that makes them so captivating. The lyrics of Colin Meloy have not lost any of their heavenly luster through the long hiatus.
The album title stems from the song “12/17/12,” which could be mistaken to be the reference to the birth of a child like “316” was on Van Halen's F.U.C.K. album. In fact, the title is a reference to President Obama's speech addressing the Newton School shootings, which deeply impacted the band's consciousness. As the title suggests, times of great pain and suffering point out what is most bestial in humanity, but in that crisis it also sheds a light on the heavenly side of our human nature, and highlights what is really important in life.
The Decemberists will invade the iconic Massey Hall on March 30, 2015. It should be a spectacular show, from a band poised to continue making wonderful music for a long time to come.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
Straight out of Oshawa Ontario, the band “Mellowkotzen” presents 10 tracks in which could be classified as sophisticated, grown up Pop-Rock-Jazz with a slight edge.
Through exotic instruments such as ukulele, saxophones, flutes, double bass and organ, it provides the back drop for the lead vocalist to soar mightily through her soulful expressions on topics covering bullying, angst, relationships, and good times. There are moments where there is a good party vibe (the opening number “Bottomless” and “Lobster”), to the torch song soulfulness bringing in angst and seriousness to the performance ("I Can’t Swim").
For a young band, their first album is one in which I would classify it as “beyond category”. It has the old fashioned feel of a Jazz record, but it is not Jazz. The vocals and songs are radio length, but don’t fit the confines of the synthetic popular music sound. For this alone, this is probably one of the most creative genre-bending records I have heard, with its tight, succinct arrangements, strong lead vocals, and great use of unique instrumentation that gives it an old school feel yet updating it for the 21st century. UnderWaterMelon is a very strong debut with cool new sounds from beginning to end.
July Talk’s 2013 self-titled debut album crackles with energy and seethes with sexuality, largely fuelled by the tension between band leaders Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay. Since then, in addition to a vigorous touring schedule, the band has released For Your Bloodshot Eyes, an EP containing three additional songs not included on the original Canadian version of July Talk.
The EP kicks off with the bluesy-rock “Gentleman,” which sets a slower pace, simmering with lines like “we’re so easy to love when we’re down on our knees.” However, “Blood + Honey” and “Uninvited” offer the riffs and catchy hooks that fans of the band have come to expect, with “Blood + Honey” standing out as the most powerful addition to the band’s repertoire.
For Your Bloodshot Eyes serves two purposes: to continue to showcase the band’s exceptional talent, and to reaffirm that they are on the cusp of absolutely exploding in popularity. It is a must-hear.
– Alyson Shane (Twitter @alysonshane)
Superstition, The Birthday Massacre’s sixth and most recent studio album, showcases the band’s talent in a range of music presented in tracks ranging from industrialized dance to gothy, electronic, atmospheric, and guitar-laden tunes.
The album was enjoyable in its entirety. Not meaning to slight the musical crew in any way (Falcore and Rainbow on guitars, Owen on synths, Nate on bass, and Rhim on drums), but Chibi’s vocals are definitely the strongest asset here. The weakest link would be the dark, creepy vocals that come in about three-quarters of the way through “Divide” and then again in “Destroyer.” They’re just a little too dark, but perhaps those who tend more toward the Gothic scene would really think they add something.
The Canadian (currently located in Toronto, started in London, Ontario in 1999) six-piece released Superstition on Metropolis Records last month (November) on CD as well as a limited edition vinyl in conjunction with a tour.
“Divide” begins the album in its industrial, yet dancey style. The instruments complement one another and the track flows well. The slower, slightly darker sound of “Diaries” continues the dancey feel and adds a gothy element. Carrying on through the album, it should be noted that the heavy guitar sound on many tracks saves The Birthday Massacre from falling into the category of electronica. Track six, “Oceania,” is a bit reminiscent of early Depeche Mode, later moving to up-tempo “Beyond” with its atmospheric keyboards.
Overall, the listening experience was appreciated and I’d recommend the album to The Birthday Massacre fans new and old as well as those who’ve never listened to them before.
– Kathy Nichols
No one likes to badmouth people when they argue, break up, and get back together – but Reagan Jones’ and Andrew Sega’s reconnection and subsequent collaboration on the album Radiant produces a largely forgettable collection of electronic pop songs save for some promising pieces such as “Sound Becomes Waves.”
Iris began as a Texas duo consisting of Reagan Jones and Matt Morris and in 2000, and was declared “best band” and “best album “ at the American Synthpop Awards. The current combination of Jones and Sega produced three albums, the last being titled Blacklight in 2010. An argument after their supporting tour of Blacklight led to the band members not speaking to each other for a year. Perhaps the time apart has mellowed Sega and Jones. Whereas Blacklight had an edgier, gritty feel, much of Radiant seems docile and resigned – as if they were thinking, “Let’s play nice together and not rock the boat.” The first half of the album features songs that blend too similarly with each other. However, the second half picks up the pace with stronger tracks such as “Rewired” and “Sight Unseen.” Everyone needs time to work out issues between each other, and Radiant may prove Jones and Sega are on the right path.
– Patrick Li
A Strange Play is a double-disc set containing 31 (33 if you get the Bandcamp version) covers of The Cure songs by almost as many electro, industrial, goth, and EBM artists. The tribute album was released this month on Belgium’s Alfa Matrix label. Focusing on the Disintegration album (seven songs from this one) and earlier, these artists pay homage by giving their unique takes on the music that The Cure is known so well for.
All the songs respect their parent versions in that they stray, but not to the point of being unrecognizable. About a third of the tracks are performed by female-fronted projects, which really adds a new perspective. Most had an added industrial edge, some heavier than others.
The track listing favours early and mid-era The Cure. The bands later, poppier sound was represented in the likes of “Just Like Heaven,” “Friday I’m in Love,” and a few others, but they were heavily outnumbered by the likes of “Charlotte Sometimes,” “La Ment,” “All Cats are Grey,” and similar tracks which put The Cure in the dictionary under “melancholy.”
Reportedly, these recordings were all done in the space of about a year by numerous Alfa Matrix bands who wanted to pay tribute to The Cure’s dark legend. Belgium’s Metroland did their take on “Close To Me,” switching the opening verse to spoken lines, each delivered by a different person with what sounded like very heavy English accents. Norwegian duo Kant Kino contributed two tracks, “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” (which was very synth-heavy à la early-‘80s Devo), and “Charlotte Sometimes” (this version was very sped up which destroyed a lot of the song’s mystical quality, but it was an interesting take on it). Lyrics, based on a book by Penelope Farmer, were performed by Mari Kattman, formerly of synthpop and EBM duo Day Twelve. German duo Mari Chrome’s version of “A Forest” was similar – the original sentimental sound was altered based on the increased speed of the electronic music. Italian/British two-piece Alien Vampires took on Seventeen Seconds’ “In Your House,” maintaining the same rhythm as the original but adding a lot of distortion to make the song their own. Two bands took on “Burn,” the song written in 1994 for The Crow’s soundtrack. Norwegian electro-rockers Essence of Mind took things up a notch and made the song a bit lighter and more sing-songy, while Italy’s Helalyn Flowers laid on the synthesizer sound. “A Night Like This” from 1985’s Head on the Door, performed by XMH, presented with highly altered vocals, which led to the loss of Robert Smith’s vocal inflection but not the quality of the song. “La Ment” was turned into something resembling a synth-powered pop ballad by Spanish electro-pop act Mondträume. They sped the song up considerably and their interpretation is reminiscent of the backing track to a video game. Another one that seems like it should be in the video game arcade was the same album’s “The Baby Screams,” by Armageddon Dildos vs. Bezirk02. Belgian’s Star Industry added a strong industrial beat and electronic alteration to the vocals on 1983 single (later released on Japanese Whispers) “The Walk.”
Overall, the album is enjoyable. It is available at the label’s website: www.alfa-matrix.com or http://alfamatrix.bandcamp.com/album/a-strange-play-an-alfa-matrix-tribute-to-the-cure (Bandcamp version).
– Kathy Nichols
With The Signal, pianist and singer/songwriter Elizabeth Shepherd creates contemporary jazz that is high on both rhythmic sensibilities and lyrical content.
She has a knack of making odd-time signatures groovy, toe tapping and head bopping (i.e. the 7/4 application of the opening tunes “Willow” and “What’s Happening”) while singing about deep topics ranging from motherhood (Baby Steps), faith (“Lion’s Den”; “I Gave”) and big business (“B.T. Cotton”).
A real strength that Shepherd has over other jazz vocalists that I have heard is that she is a unique storyteller with something creative to offer and give on the music scene in Canada and beyond. She takes the experiences that she draws from her many travels and encounters and envelopes them into a style that is uniquely her own.
Upon listening to “The Signal,” her fifth recording, Shepherd has matured into a real 21st century jazz singer/songwriter who really has a lot going for her in life and in music. The grooves are tighter, the lyrics are thought-provoking, and the musical support from her musicians ranging from steel pan, trumpet, standard upright bass, sampling, percussion and backing vocals are top notch. Shepherd is an artist who has a fine ability to create grooves and pieces that make you want to dance while at the same time the lyrics make you want to think and question the world around you.
Another strong effort from a chanteuse who keeps challenging and striving for new and creative heights.
– Conrad Gayle
With Bonobo’s latest release Flashlight EP, we are once again graced by the subtle groovy sounds that seem to be designed to alter your state of mind and get your feet moving. Scott Green, AKA Bonobo, is one of Ninja Tune’s most celebrated alumni and has been the leader of many chillwave and ambient electronica journeys since his humble beginnings back in the late 90s. Although this EP is only three songs long, it is one of Bonobo’s strongest releases in years. The opening track “Flashlight” is loaded with hooky grooves and samples that will have you cranking your high-end stereo and putting the tracks on repeat immediately. The second cut, “Return to Air,” is a throwback to mid-90s ambient electronica with strong similarities to bands like The Orb and Autechre. This tune is DEEP with a house-like beat and wicked-ass samples. The guitar tracks are layered perfectly with the synth bass line and other ear candy samples making it irresistible. The final track, “Pelican,” is another spine tickler that will get you moving. Its crushing grooves will put a tear in your speakers and will be a nice surprise transition at your next party. As per the high bar expectation that comes with any Ninja Tune release, especially with Bonobo, you can rest assured that Flashlight EP is a first-rate teaser for what presumably will be a wonderful new full-length album to be announced in the near future.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Thirty years ago, in August of 1984, jazz guitar legend Lenny Breau was found dead - apparently murdered. The mystery remains unsolved. Two months earlier, executive producer Randy Bachman and the crew of Guitar Archives released a never-before-heard live album recorded by the legendary guitarist at the peak of his talent.
LA Bootleg 1984 is a collection of tried and tested standards such as “Stella By Starlight,” “There Will Never Be Another You,” and “If You Could See Me Now,” performed in a trio setting that brings elements of swing, introspection, reflection and happiness. These dynamics seem to be signs of Breau being just on the brink of a new creative high, and there are no indications of him slowing down.
These performances haven’t been released and can be seen as somewhat of a revelation for Lenny Breau fans and devotees who want to bring some closure to his short career.
Upon listening to this newly-released recording, it is astonishing that Breau blended various genres and prodigious technique to create a style that is uniquely his own. Here we get to see him interact with a fuller jazz unit that supports him in his explorations while he swings and burns on faster tempos such as “Four” and “There Will Never Be Another You,” and reflects and plays with sensitivity on ballads such as “When I Fall In Love” and “If You Could See Me Now.”
One of the highlighted tracks in this set is an obscure piece composed by Don Thompson called “Days Gone By.” Lenny treats this piece so well that it deserves to become a contemporary standard, bringing heartfelt emotion and harmonic sensibilities into the piece.
LA Bootleg 1984 is a welcome addition for guitar aficionados and fans of Lenny Breau to honour and pay respect to a major talent gone way too soon.
– Conrad Gayle
No matter how many times you listen to “After The Storm,” you’ll still get goosebumps and have to stop everything you’re doing. The fourth song on Swimmin’ Time, the latest release from the Charleston, SC duo Shovels & Rope showcases the strong writing, powerful vocals and amazing harmonies that Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have become known for.
This thirteen-song collection of new tunes from the husband-and-wife duo, who won the 2013 Americana Music Awards for Song of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year, is by far one of the best albums of this year.
If you’re not already a fan of the Hearst and Trent pairing, you’ll be hooked after hearing this album.
I saw Shovels & Rope live three years ago and I still consider it the best show I’ve seen. Hearst and Trent give everything they’ve got in a live show that’s full of passion, energy, spirit, love, and a bit of reckless abandon. Their studio albums, produced by Trent, have that same feel.
The album opens with the amazing “The Devil Is All Around,” a stellar introduction to Shovels & Rope if you need one. “I got wasted and I sat around the fire all day seeing if I could find someone to make love to / And I barely even noticed how the fibers they tear away from the fabric of my being,” they sing on this standout track.
Another highlight is “After The Storm,” a haunting tune that pulls at your heartstrings with lyrics like, “I’ve been spinning for so long / now I guess I’m spun,” and powerful, straining vocals full of feeling from Hearst and Trent. As the song ends and the two sing “my mistakes they are so many / for my weary heart is wild,” it will give you goosebumps every time.
“Coping Mechanism” is a catchy song about drugs with lines like “I do my best to keep the confusion to a minimum / I try not to be the monster of the millennium.” The song has a doo-wop feel, and the addition of piano is just right.
Water runs through Swimmin’ Time, and in the same way rain soaks through our clothes and seeps into our skin, these thirteen songs soak into our bones. Full of feeling and passion, these often-dark tales stick with you long after the final note of mournful closer “Thresher.”
Strong writing and stories about finding hope amid storms, floods, and sinking battleships make this a standout record. There’s a darker feel to this album than their previous O’ Be Joyful. They’ve added organ and strings, but it has the same for-the-love-of-music-and-the-love-of-each other feel as the duo’s first album. Hearst and Trent whisper and shout, strain and harmonize to get their stories across with passion and feeling.
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
The Montreal-based quintet Stars return two years after their album The North with a simpler, tighter, and mostly upbeat collection of music with their latest entry No One is Lost.
The opening selection “From the Night” is a tribute to the Royal Phoenix, a nightclub where the band had recorded above. It’s a fun, danceable selection that prepares you for a great night on the town - full of promise and unpredictability. The atmosphere conveyed on this track is in great contrast with perhaps one of the strongest tracks, the Country-tinged ballad “Look Away”. One can interpret the lyrics of “Look Away” as a question of how to reconcile a secret relationship forged from a hazy, liquor-fueled crazy night out many years ago. It’s a mature, melancholy, meaningful piece that distinguishes itself from the New Order influenced “Are You Okay” or “No One Is Lost”, the latter which would sound at home alongside a Black-Eyed Peas track.
Many have commented that No One is Lost, is series of danceable pop songs but the slower pieces such as “Turn It Up” and “The Stranger” demonstrate the band’s adept ability to melodically express feelings of regret and self-pity.
No One is Lost reminds us of the great parties we once attended and then wonder what would have happened if fate had treated us differently while we were out.
– Patrick Li
Ever since Emilia came out last year with “Closer All The Time” from her impressive 4-track EP Flying Colors, I have been anticipating her new music and now the wait is over. Simply titled E, this exciting new 10-song collection pours the same emotional intensity into meaningful lyrics, based on her life experiences against a variety of rhythm changes, genres and instruments.
“The City Misses You,” a song about missing someone is a gentle piano ballad with the jazzy sounds of a muted-trumpet, and you will be close to tears while hearing the heartfelt track “You Make Me Happy.” But they are not all deep songs about life. On “Bombshell,” the opening track, Emilia shows her playful side by bringing an apt sultriness to this pop rock tune, while “How I Got Over You,” commands the listener’s attention with an upbeat, catchy lead before slowing down for a moment, only to return to the toe-tapping hook. I could see this one being a fan favourite.
Emilia shares producing credits with musical arranger Joel Lightman, engineering and mixing was done by Juno Award winner George Seara (Drake, Rhianna, Holly Cole). On top of recording and rehearsing, Emilia is also working towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at York University, where she has studied with some of Canada’s top jazz musicians, including Frank Falco, Sherie Marshall and Mike Cado.
E is an amazing album from an amazing talent; Now available on iTunes and the physical disc is set to release in early November.
– Charmaine Elizabeth Merchant (Facebook @elizabethcharms)
The debut disc Just Rivers from Toronto indie folk/country/rock (yes, they can be classed as all three) clan Beams, is like that cup of hot chocolate that you reach for when you are in the mood for a sweet treat. Light and sweet is just the way to describe the pretty blending of vocals by lead singer and banjo player Anna Mernieks, with those of long-time friend and band mate Heather Mazhar. The rest of the band, consisting of Mernieks drummer and partner Mike Duffield, Dave Hamilton on mandolin, Craig Moffatt on bass, Martin Crawford on lap steel and Keith Hamilton who plays something interesting called a musical saw, combine their colourful instruments to convey their unique sound. Mernieks weaves her personal life experiences into the songwriting on Just Rivers resulting in a lovely album of meaningful storytelling and energetic rythms.
The hauntingly beautiful “Be My Brother” is the opening track to the 12-set disc, with several songs to follow that will certainly grab your ear’s attention. “Sun Wraps Round” is an upbeat, chirpy tune that reminds me of a warm summer’s day, while “Picture this” will make you want to kick up your feet. Also check out their fantastic cover of Portishead’s “Glorybox.”
The band is currently set to tour with an upcoming date at 3030 Dundas West (The 3030) on November 7, 2014.
– Charmaine Elizabeth Merchant (Facebook @elizabethcharms)
Elephant Stone's new album The Three Poisons, continues to be a musical fusion of East meets West, but above all else, it is a beautiful blending of artistic maturity and discovery. Unlike their last release, which was recorded live, this is a more mature thematic endeavour.
Having the opportunity to experiment in the studio, is perhaps the key reason why this recording might be one of the best albums of 2014. I do not say this lightly. In a landscape which suffocates the listener with a plethora of unfiltered noise, streaming mindlessly from many platforms, there is nothing like The Three Poisons.
Elephant Stone are a hard working band. Literally! Although they are pursuing their dream of making a sustainable living from their music, at the moment they are working full time jobs, recording, and touring. One wonders whether this has seeped into their musical consciousness, making the album refreshing and timely.
The Three Poisons was inspired by the Buddhist teaching which lists ignorance, attachment, and aversion as the primary causes that keep human beings trapped in unhappiness. Ignorance is the root poison, leading to the other two. This is a noticeable departure from their previous self titled effort. For the first time they have a collection of songs that is unified by a common theme. This thematic approach is explored in each individual track. Most notable is the song Knock You From Your Mountain. This Dylanesque protest song, fused with Eastern rhythm and a touch of Pink Floyd, comments on ignorance of those fighting wars, and those of us who watch the news, yet blissfully remain ignorant bystanders.
There are many other gems on the album that require their proper turn and point out a deep musical chemistry and intuitiveness between Gavin and Rishi. The western electric guitar and the eastern sitar speak with a single tone and purpose. Throughout the album one has the surreal impression as though their instruments had the capability of finishing each other's sentences.
The band as a whole needs to be congratulated for contributing such a recording to our rich Canadian landscape. A tour is already planned, but compose your excitement and give this The Three Poisons a good listen.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
In her debut record, Vancouver native Deborah Ledon brings a very smooth, laid back and sensual take on adult contemporary Latin Jazz that is infused with creative arrangements, clear vocals, and strong back up from a team of skillful musicians.
Instead of littering her debut jazz record with pure Great American songbook standards, Ledon takes songs from various pop icons, some jazz classics, Latin standards and even tosses in a few originals of her own make up the record. For instance, Deborah brought a lot of freshness and uniqueness by interpreting k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving” in a Latin style; She performs Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic “I Will Survive” as a moody, romantic, yet light Latin number that was innovative and not kitschy at all; Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” was recreated with a spicy salsa groove; and Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” was given a moody tango backdrop that adds to the “misterioso” of Leonard Cohen’s music.
Some of the originals on the album include “Se Va Y Se Va”, “Te Estrano”, and “I Love To Love You”. With these songs it shows Ledon’s great command of the Latin idiom and language, and she is also an effective communicator of expressing her emotions through her own work.
What I appreciate in Deborah’s voice is her clear sense of diction and feeling when she sings such songs. The lyrics are treated with proper respect and she is really coming of her own as a Latin jazz stylist. The overall project would have benefited from more varied styles such as swing, but with this record and what she is trying to do she has effectively found her niche in Latin music and is willing to grow within it. Deborah’s “Diving for Pearls” is a debut full of promise, poise, and possibility for one who is willing to take creative new risks with her music.
– Conrad Gayle
Saudade is a Portuguese word known for being notoriously difficult to translate into English. Roughly, it comes to mean a sense of profound melancholy or longing, and it is a common element in the music of Portugal and Brazil. It is no surprise, then, that Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante’s music is filled with this saudade – he even overtly uses the word in the delicate standout, “Irene”. Amarante, best known for his work with Little Joy, Los Hermanos and Orquestra Imperial, has embarked on his first solo effort, entitled Cavalo.
Right off the bat, the listener is swept away on the light breeze of “Nada Em Vão”, a soft, wistful tune that also feels rather sensual thanks to Amarante’s smooth, silky voice, and punchy brass peppered here and there. In contrast, “Hourglass”, one of the album’s more rock-oriented tracks, has Amarante sounding eerily similar to Julian Casablancas, his voice bearing the reedy gruffness and stylistic inflections of the Strokes frontman.
Cavalo is like a musical and cultural melting pot; Amarante alternates between singing in English, French and Portuguese, and incorporates elements from various musical cultures and genres. The listener gets a taste of tropicália, bossa nova, folk and rock all within the span of about 38 minutes. That being said, the album still manages to feel like a cohesive whole with songs that complement each other. Though his music may be full of saudade, Amarante’s Cavalo should fare no trouble translating to English-speaking audiences.
– Maria Sokulsky-Dolnycky (Twitter @marisodo)
Pennywise, the punk legends from Southern California, have just released their eleventh studio album, Yesterdays. As of 2013, this album marks 25 years of Pennywise. The album includes many songs that were written by former bassist, Jason Thirsk, who passed away 18 years ago. To say the least, Yesterdays does the fallen icon justice.
The work by Thirsk had never previously been recorded. Vocalist Jim Lindberg via Epitaph Records, explains: “We always wanted to go back and record these songs because later in our career we started to get more political and angry— that may have turned some people off but that’s what we were feeling at the time … In the back of our minds we knew we had these cool, old songs that were more life-affirming, it just took us 25 years to get back to it.”
The evolution of punk has been vast and fast. Many trends and bands often find their way to 'old school' status in less than 10 short years. With that in mind, there is a hefty weight on the shoulders of the 'classic' punkers to keep themselves relevant, without conforming to changing trends. A few veterans maintain relevance and are the encouragement of generation after generation; some achieve influential levels of success and accept their page in history, which is no doubt respectable. Others refuse to let the dream -- or the income -- die. We've all seen those 40+ dudes whose band had a few tours in the ‘80s and ‘90s and still play the same 10, four-chord songs that they've played for 20 years, which wear us out with tired examples of exaggerated egos.
Which brings us back to Pennywise: a machine seemingly oblivious to trends and resistant to irrelevance. Even though their name hasn't had much weight in headlines or album charts in recent years, make no mistake that they are always present.
While not officially labeled as a 'tribute', it's difficult to consider Yesterdays as anything else. It is simple and honest. Not solely a tribute to a fallen friend, but also to a fallen generation. The world today is sparse in similarity to a once glorious scene. The kids are falling for the weakest sleight of hand; governments worldwide are fighting their own people. Music is one of the few purities and Pennywise have voiced the minds of an ever-silenced era. Naturally, this is all orchestrated so well that each time after “I Can Remember”, you'll have an urge for “What You Deserve”.
Yesterdays will be around for many tomorrows.
– Taylor Kerr (Twitter @tkerr7)
Early Riser marks Jerry Leger's seventh album in less than 10 years and it's clear that he's a man on a mission to reinvigorate the Canadian Roots Rock landscape for the better. When listening to his latest release, artists like The Cash Brothers, The Sadies and Dustin Bentall come to mind as the songs deliver a serious Canadiana vibe from melody to lyrics. It’s the kind of album that you’ll want to spin for a long drive through the prairies on a cross-country trek; it could easily be put on repeat without wearing thin. Along with an enviable cast of studio musicians that appear on the album, Leger commissioned the seasoned production skills of Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), a man who has been around the hit-single block a few times and was the perfect fit to put this album in its proper place. These amazing songs shine with tasteful injections of fiddle, pedal steel, keys, gospel backup vocals and much more – while never overdoing any of the above –giving each song its own persona. Early Riser’s overall package is so easy to take in.
Standout tracks include the opener, “Factory Made”, a dramatic song with heavy bass lines that push the tune into dark places, keeping a continuity of beauty and subtle messages of life perspective and personal strife. Not only does this song set the bar extremely high for the remainder of the album, it also has a super catchy chorus that sticks. “Nobody’s Angel” is another track that caught my attention; it’s a sweet ballad of a young woman whose compromised lifestyle is something of a never-ending tragedy. The meandering and subtle piano mixed with tremolo guitars and Leger’s velvety emotional voice really lays down a heavy mood. I could listen to this song with a drink in hand and sob my eyes out. Moving on, “She Ain't My Woman and I Ain't No Woman's Man” is a cool Dylan-esque tune with loads of percussion and a strong set of lyrics. This tune paints a picture of a rough and tumble troubadour with more than one lover; it’s certainly one of the album’s highlights.
Overall we have a VERY impressive release here, something the band and contributing players should be very proud of. I certainly look forward to hearing these songs live.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Canadian punk band, White Lung, released their third studio album entitled Deep Fantasy.
Hailing from Vancouver, White Lung showcases that a group of three women (and their male guitarist) can create superior punk tunes in a male-dominated field of the music industry. Expect strong vocals that aggressively overthrow the stereotypical female voice and intricate, hard, and heavy instrumentals.
White Lung creates tunes that are reminiscent of old school punk, with some hardcore flare. The album artwork of Deep Fantasy is an erratic and wild Photoshop mash up which translates the energy White Lung puts into writing and performing their music.
Check out tracks “Down It Goes” and “Sycophant”.
– Emily Fin
Meh. The remixes were meh. At first, when I saw Fatman Scoop AND Skrillex, I was excited to turn up the volume and just indulge in ear candy. But about 1:37 seconds through the first song, I was thinking, “Wait, what am I listening to? I don’t even know. What is this?” And then by the third track, I didn’t even know I was listening to the third track, I thought it was still the first one. Then I was thinking, “Wait, I don’t even know the song titles.” But nonetheless, every time I zoned back into the music I wished I was at a live show jumping around. The album definitely has a lot of energy and potential, but this is clearly not Skrillex’s, Kill the Noise’s or Fat Man Scoop's best work. It was boring. There is not a lot to say about the remixes other than, it was… aight, I guess.
− Jaii Bhamra (Facebook @jaiikbhamra)
Chromeo have managed to put together a pretty good album, but they’re just too cool to admit it. Four years after Chromeo’s mainstream hit Business Casual, the Montreal-based duo are back with their fourth album, White Women. With Chromeo’s latest release, members Dave1 and P-Thugg have made their manifesto clear: bring disco back from the dead. To help in their mission, the group has enlisted a variety of musicians to aid them including: Solange Knowles, Toro Y Mori and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. In their mission, Chromeo have for the most part have succeeded. P-Thugg keeps the album drenched in a hearty dose of ‘80s synth and ‘70s funk. Lead vocalist Dave1 keeps the lyrics simple with songs about jealous lovers, teasing socialites and ‘80s nostalgia. White Women opens with song of the summer nominee “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)”. While it’s not the album’s high point, it’s without a doubt the catchiest and most radio-friendly song on the record. Opening the album with such a track acts as a double-edged sword: on one hand it serves as a fantastic introduction for what to expect from the record. Those who purchase White Women solely from listening to “Jealous” won’t be disappointed. On the other hand, the song is so catchy and so addictive it’s easy for casual listeners to click the repeat button and forget there are 11 other tracks that are just as easy to dance to. Chromeo are clearly having a blast on White Women. Each song is fun and it’s not hard to imagine anyone getting an enthusiastic response from club goers on the dance floor. While White Women won’t be put beside such disco classics as Saturday Night Live, it‘s something entirely different. It’s disco for the 21st century.
– Morgan Harris
Low expectations would not be among the most common prior to the release of Every Time I Die's seventh studio album, From Parts Unknown. All of the properties were in place for one absolutely flawless piece of work. As of July 1st, all of the hype and attention that had been built up was released upon the masses in hard copy. However, it's likely that you had heard the album already.
Let's step back to take a minute to appreciate what, exactly, this album is. For those who don't know, Converge has been well respected in the industry for the better part of 20 years now. Converge guitar player, Kurt Ballou, had the pleasure of orchestrating this cultural masterpiece. Meanwhile, Every Time I Die prove once again, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are one of this generations most influential bands. With their own personal brand of formaldehyde for today's pop music, they shake the foundation and keep this scene on it's toes. The two forces are really quite remarkable.
The discomfort felt inside of Keith Buckley's soulfully melodic tonal urges, act as a vice grip on a cog to ensure the tightest fit. Some people have expressed disinterest in Keith's singing and suggest that there is too much, or that it isn't appropriate for the music. Others disagree entirely and claim that it actually develops a darker edge within the music. A handful of bands, that will remain nameless, have taken the road less heavy in their recent albums; ETID have not followed suit. Some say that the beauty in a great work of art is the initial ugliness and subsequent re-evaluation of your perspective. "The Great Secret" is, if anything, raw. From Parts Unknown is a beautiful train wreck.
To say the least, the boys done good. Easily one of the finest albums of the year.
Another classic for your collection.
– Taylor Kerr (Twitter @tkerr7)
More than 30 years have passed since his Bauhaus days and now Peter Murphy is back three years after his last solo album with Lion, his tenth solo album. He is still dealing in commanding gothic sub-Bowieisms from opener “Hang Up”. Nowadays it's mid ‘90s Bowie that he's cribbing from (“I Am My Own Name”), which is a less worn path. There is a serious misstep early on with “Low Tar Stars”, which goes all goth high-energy with a bit of Pearl Jam. Yes, that is as strange as it sounds.
The slow, relatively stripped back “I'm On Your Side”, “Compression” and “Loctaine” are a distinct improvement, each featuring a rousing chorus. A whole album of this can get a bit much, in the case of plodding dirge “The Rose” (featuring plaintive wailing). On the other hand, The Horrors would kill for a tune like “Ghosts of Shokan Lake”, and “Eliza” could fit nicely on last year's Queens of the Stone Age album Like Clockwork, allowing for the semi-Eldritch vocals.
The closing title track gives Murphy a chance for a pleasingly indulgent vocal on the final dark anthem. Although dated in its sound, the album is a reasonably enjoyable listen.
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
What would happen if Pink Floyd tried to make a blues record? Thanks to The Black Keys and their latest release, Turn Blue, listeners can now imagine such an album. The hard rocking duo have dialed back the bluesy influence of past albums and instead fully embraced the psychedelic sounds that were so popular with the Woodstock generation. The result is a Black Keys album that really doesn’t sound much like a Black Keys album. It’s a gamble that has paid off greatly for Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. Rather then feeling safe with the success of 2011’s El Camino and following it up with El Camino 2.0, the duo have thrown caution to the wind and created a brand new listening experience for longtime fans of the band. While Turn Blue marks the fourth collaboration between The Black Keys and producer/songwriter Danger Mouse, his influence on the album is perhaps more overtly felt on this record. The title track “Turn Blue” sounds almost as if it was a leftover track from Broken Bells’ After the Disco. Just replace James Mercer’s haunting vocals with the barroom antics of Auerbach. It’s these contrasting styles of blues, psychedelic and garage rock that help make Turn Blue such a memorable album. Like most great bands, The Black Keys continue to evolve and grow with each album. Each one is a definitive capsule of everything that is The Black Keys in that particular moment. With that in mind, we have no idea what the next album will sound like, but it’s impossible to not be excited to hear what comes next.
– Morgan Harris
The mysterious music of Lykke Li brings pleasure, pain, sadness and joy among other intense feelings. Her unique style of swooping ambient sounds with an eerily beautiful voice will stun you and have you immediately hooked. Li's most recent release, I Never Learn is a masterpiece and was brought to life with the AMAZING production skills of Björn Yttling (Peter Bjorn and John, David Lynch, Young Folks), which resulted in an unparalleled collection of power ballads that are soon to make this young Swedish star a household name worldwide.
Li wastes no time getting to her most potent material with track one, “I Never Learn”. This wonderful song is one of the more robust offerings without question; it starts with a George Harrison style acoustic strum, which has the potential of going in multiple directions, however, when the vocals begin it's clear that there's something much deeper at work here. As the chilling vocals and orchestration are introduced, the overall sound locks solidly into place as a dark ambient indie release. Track two, “No Rest For The Wicked” is the album's first single and is currently getting the young songstress plenty of attention on radio and TV. She recently performed the song on Jimmy Kimmel Live to a packed L.A. crowd. As the album meanders through dark and unsettling places, I come across “Never Gonna Love Again”, an absolute showstopper of s song. Its anthemic chorus was pretty much made for Hollywood; I wouldn't be surprised if it appears in a big budget movie very soon. I would have LOVED to hear a pre-chorus in this song, but I'll take it either way -- it's way too catchy to resist. The song that truly personifies this somber album is “Sleeping Alone”; you can actually hear and feel heartbreak in the young woman's voice, after all, she did write this entire album shortly after a messy breakup with her boyfriend. Bookending a pretty much perfect release is the song “Heart of Steel”, yet another amazing power ballad that showcases a gospel choir; it will simply leave you breathless.
I very rarely come across an album that merits five stars and I truly feel this one deserves a six. Li's heartfelt songs brought tears, chills, happiness, goose bumps and a full range of feelings like nothing I've never experienced before while listening to a record. This album is simply a MUST HAVE.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
It’s clear upon the first listen of their self-titled EP that Weaves have carved a compelling sound that can’t be easily pinned down.
The brainchild of actor/producer/musician Morgan Waters and former Rat Tail vocalist Jasmyn Burke (with Zach Bines on bass and Spencer Cole on drums), their collaboration results in a mishmash of bouncy, electric-guitar fused dancing tunes with a ‘60s sensibility, all threaded together with the strong, heady vocals of Jasmyn Burke.
Their story reads like a modern day indie music fairy tale: after they met totally by chance, Burke and Waters exchanged cellphone music demos and realized they completed one another musically. Merging Waters’ background in pop with Burke’s talent for experimental sound and adding the fantastic rhythmic duo of Bines and Cole to the mix, Weaves has conceived a unique brand of arty, weirdo rock that they are now performing at shows, happily ever after.
They have pretty solid support behind the scenes as well. David Newfeld, who also has producing credits on albums for local indie music darlings Broken Social Scene and Los Campesinos!, produced two of their tracks, “Closer” and “Buttercup”.
Although their sound comes on really strong, absorbing it in small doses results in a sensuously satisfying high. Super-charged, sexy songs like “Buttercup” and “Motorcycle” will get you shaking your rump, while the more explosive “Take a Dip” gives you permission to let your hair down and headbang. On the other end of the album’s spectrum are the arty and weird “Hulahoop”, the more delicate and sweetly melodic “Do You See Past” and the more accessible and rockin’ “Closer”.
Their ability to morph from song to song is probably the most intriguing thing about Weaves. In a recent “Band to Watch” profile with Rolling Stone, Burke explained that they are seeking to make something different and don’t want to be a part of one specific scene. One look at their vibrant album cover design or at their surreal, cartoonish videos and it’s apparent this band can’t be boxed in. The list of shows they have played at are eclectic as well. Small fry outdoor fests like Empty Fest and the TO-based Wavelength concert series have included them on their lineup, but they have also graced the stage at big-time fests like SXSW and will be featured at the upcoming NXNE fest.
Although I haven’t had the privilege to see them live, I would bet this is a far-out sound to experience at a festival. If you lack the funds for a festival ticket, you should listen to this EP outside in your backyard high or while working on your next art project.
But be wary: the more you listen, the more habit forming this EP really is. And if you are in need of another hit, you’ll be happy to know the band’s upcoming debut LP will be out soon. Indeed, it will be interesting to see what they cook up next.
– Andrea Pare
Look down, look away.
I am not responding to that.
Do not engage. We all know it. It's that vibe you send out when you don't want to engage in conversation in public, or respond to that nasty comment on social media. That is precisely what The Pack A.D.'s latest album is about. However, if you were trying to pin the anger or aloofness on songwriter/guitarist Becky Black, you'd be mistaken. Black writes her songs from the perspectives of the characters in her songs. What we have here is a collection of eleven of the raunchiest, rocking-est songs they have released to date.
Do Not Engage is the fifth studio album for the Vancouver duo, produced by Jim Diamond (White Stripes, Alice Cooper). Diamond also produced their fourth album, 2011's Unpersons, resulting in a Juno nomination for Breakthrough Group Of The Year. They have been compared in the past to The Black Keys, The White Stripes and The Kills. Indeed, their sound to date has been a great mix of rock and blues, however this album sees them maturing into a much more sophisticated yet raunchier sound.
Black's guitar and drummer Maya Miller's beats come together with as much subtlety as an air raid siren. Together they form the perfect backdrop for Black's vocals. Sometimes pleading, sometimes mocking, her vocals are always edgy and raunchy. This album isn't meant to be pretty. From the drumbeats of “Airborne”, the beat and the pulse are relentless. “Animal”, “Creeping Jenny” and “Battering Ram” are rock-hard highlights here. “Loser” slows it down a little as a great ballad in character of a passive-aggressive loner. The final track, “Needles”, is a lulling, almost country-like ballad, with vocals that are gentle and haunting, leaving us wanting more.
If The Pack A.D.'s intent with this album was truly ‘Do Not Engage’, then they have failed terribly in their mission. Once you start this album, you are completely engaged from start to finish. You just can't help yourself.
– Trish Melanson Hill (Twitter@spydrgyrl)
This is by far the ugliest album cover in the vast canon of popular music. It requires serious sustained effort to avoid making contact with its putrid qualities. The songs themselves, however, show a semblance of promise.
As a follow up to their 2012 release A Sleep & A Forgetting, this set of tracks leaves the listener with mixed feelings. The potential is certainly there and there is much promise for the future. As a band, Islands have recently migrated south from their Montreal home and have taken up residence in Los Angeles, California. As a band, they need maturing and distancing themselves from the Montreal scene may be exactly what they need.
Ski Mask seems to paint them correctly -- or incorrectly -- as a type of bland, ‘poppy-rock’ phenomena, a trend that is currently percolating all over the planet. Being part of any profitable musical scene has its advantages, but it does pose a real threat by limiting the artist’s uniqueness and creativity. Not to mention their identity.
But enough criticism. The world is filled with it, and we are no better for it.
There is a triad of songs on Ski Mask that deserve special attention. “Nil”, “Becoming a Gunship”, and “Sad Middle” are amazing. It seems the shorter the song the better it sounds. “Nil” is by far the most noticeable and memorable track. It weighs in at a puny 2:08 minutes, but it packs a mean punch. After all, who doesn’t love a great drinking song about split personalities? “Becoming a Gunship” and “Sad Middle” offer refreshing melodies and instrumentation, but the album as a whole does not have the cohesiveness necessary to secure its listen ability.
I would love to hear more from Islands in the future, but it is my sincerest hope that they search far and wide for a new art director.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
50 years ago, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz collaborated with Brazilian singer and guitarist Joao Gilberto, his wife Astrud Gilberto and pianist/composer Antonio Carlos Jobim to produce what I would call the “Kind of Blue” of Brazilian Jazz. The album would go on to win four Grammy awards, including the two top prizes for Album of the Year and Record of the Year for “The Girl From Ipanema”.
In this expanded edition, it is primarily a feast for the audiophile and jazz collector since the edition features both the stereo and (for the first time on CD) mono versions of the eight classic tracks, plus two bonus tracks of the singles version of “Ipanema” and “Corcovado”. In addition to the classic liner notes from Getz, Gilberto and Gene Lees, it also features a newly penned essay from Marc Myers and lots of photos taken from the session.
For those wanting to acquaint themselves to the beauty of Brazilian jazz and have good music in time for the World Cup, Getz/Gilberto is a must-have simply because it is timeless music performed by timeless musicians at the peak of their careers. This is also an important album that defined an era and a culture in the 1960’s that was exploring and trying out new and exciting things, such as the fusion of cool jazz with Brazilian melodies and beats.
The music in Getz/Gilberto also showed that jazz could be innovative and popular without watering down the music or becoming too abstract to alienate the listener. It was easy, peaceful music, with Stan Getz improvising cool lines on his sax, and the voices of Joao and Astrud adding a romantic subtlety to the music. Jobim may have played sparsely on the album, yet through compositions such as “So Danco Samba”, “Corcovado” and the smash hit “Girl From Ipanema” it has cemented him as a bonafide jazz legend.
Getz/Gilberto is a fitting way to celebrate and commemorate a classic album in all of its award-winning glory, winning old and new fans alike with its unmistakable charms.
– Conrad Gayle
Bob Mould's eleventh solo album by and large finds him sounding rejuvenated. Opener “Low Season” has growling, brooding guitars in the manner of his classic Black Sheets of Rain album. It's a mood that suits him greatly, yet one he doesn't pursue. After the smouldering of the opening track, the album catches fire with the breakneck paced, pounding “Little Glass Pill”. Based on the evidence of these two tracks, Mould is not about to shuffle quietly off into mellow reflection.
The pace doesn't let up with rabble-rousers “Kid With Crooked Face”, “Hey Mr. Grey” and “Tomorrow Morning” barreling along, barely keeping up with themselves. “I Don't Know You Anymore” takes a classic Ramones chord sequence, slows it down and makes it sound effortless, while “Nemeses Are Laughing” and “The War” are in the vein of his ‘90s Sugar material.
Breezy strum “Forgiveness” and “Let The Beauty Be” are more relaxed than anything else here, acting as a breather on a fast, hard-rocking album, one which concludes with a final blast of energy in “Fix It”.
Dismiss this one at your peril. Although it's nothing new for Bob Mould and it certainly doesn't scale the heights of Husker Dü, Sugar or his early solo material, it may well be his best collection of songs in fifteen years.
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
The Twin Forks is a good band, but their album post-production work hinders their listeners in appreciating their real talent.
Perhaps it is unfair to mention Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers, but it is impossible not to draw obvious comparisons. Both groups are at the epicentre of the best folk rock revolution in recent memory. What makes Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers so powerful as artists is their strong acoustic delivery and their deeply meaningful lyrics. By comparison, The Twin Forks do not live up to these two qualities.
Their sound is very overproduced and hides, or at the very least underwhelms, the beauty of their melodies. All of their tracks suffer from enormous post-production. The human ear, like the human soul, longs for the harmony of their voices and the simplicity of their instruments, but is suffocated with modern technology.
Lyrically, they do not fare any better either. I offer a very quick comparison.
"Kiss Me Darling"
(The Twin Forks)
It's been a long time since
I saw you in the village playing mandolin
Something in your singing made my burdens lift
Hanging onto every word to cross your lips
Feels like a long way gone
But I can still remember how you sang that song
Smiling like nobody had ever done you wrong
Strumming like you knew you had me all along
"Flowers in Your Hair"
When we were younger we thought
Everyone was on our side
Then we grew a little
And romanticized the time I saw
Flowers in your hair
Cause it takes a boy to live
But it takes a man to pretend he was there
Without digressing into the minutia of literary theory, it may be enough here to point out what is missing – depth. It would be very unfair to profess that “Kiss Me Darling” doesn’t offer any meaning because it does. I am sure it provides tremendous meaning to the songwriter, but it lacks that universal appeal that is so imperative in order to make a connection with the listener. The Lumineer's song by contrast, has the necessary literary depth because it employs powerful literary devices. It uses humour and can evoke deep, vividly reflective images that allow the listener an opportunity to return time and time again.
I sincerely hope that this is not the last we hear from The Twin Forks. The world has room for more artists like them and the musical panorama certainly needs them. They have tremendous strength, a gift of melody making and a deep desire to connect with their fans. Perhaps their next record will provide the seemingly missing ingredients.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
Damon Albarn has had a conflicted relationship with modern life for decades. As frontman for Britpop band Blur in the ‘90s, Albarn sang about the cultural homogenization that would inevitably ruin landscapes beyond America’s shores. Yet, he is also one of the masterminds behind virtual group Gorillaz in the early 2000’s, recording one of their albums entirely on his iPad.
Fast forward to today and Albarn continues to struggle with this contradiction on his latest work, Everyday Robots, an autobiographical album that is built with both electronic and organic soundscapes. His lyrics simultaneously look at how real moments make a life and how devices take the life out of the moment.
When conceiving the album, Albarn says he and his co-producer, funk legend Bobby Womack, considered forming another pop band like Gorillaz, but ultimately decided that at 46-years-old it was more apropos for Albarn to tell his own story.
Indeed, Albarn’s story is one worth telling. From confessions about his heroin use on “You & Me” to his coming of age in Leytonstone, England on “Hollow Ponds”, as well as his experience meeting a baby elephant in Tanzania on “Mr. Tembo”, Albarn’s life and perspective are intriguing.
Equally intriguing is his relationship to technology. The title track “Everyday Robots” looks at the void we attempt to fill with gadgets, which Albarn says was inspired by his experience amidst a mass of people staring at their phones in an LA traffic jam. He continues this train of thought on the atmospheric “Lonely Press Play”, where he croons about escaping via distraction and then on “The Selfish Giant” where he sings, “It’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on”, revealing the impotence that comes as a result of this distraction.
Due to the heavy subject matter -- and perhaps Albarn’s own reflective nature -- most of the songs have a melancholic tinge to it, with the exceptions of the upbeat “Mr. Tembo” and “Parakeet”, a short piece that contains a lot of electronic chirping but no lyrics.
As an entity, the album begs the listener to stay with it and re-listen, which may be its final irony. However, if you are willing to wade through the depths alongside Albarn, you will be rewarded with songs that take root and make you feel (almost) human.
– Andrea Pare
It's been four years since Canadian quartet Tokyo Police Club released their last studio-length album, and in the time since they have only continued to hone their signature pop-slash-post-punk style. The efforts of which have culminated in their latest full-length album release, Forcefield.
The album opens with the epic nine-minute track "Argentina I, II, III" which builds nicely and doesn't feel as drawn-out as one would expect from a band whose songs generally don't last beyond four minutes. In fact, they pull it off rather magnificently and it feels like a subtle "screw you" to critics who have condemned the band's slow evolution in the past. "Hot Tonight", the magnum opus of the album, is clearly geared for the radio with rock riffs and sing-along lyrics like “I need a countdown when the fire is high/ Sitting on the curb and it’s hot tonight." Other stand-out tracks include the super-catchy "Miserable", "Beaches" and latest single "Toy Guns".
The band claims that Forcefield is meant to be a reference to their supposed rejection of pop trends in music. It is surely tongue-in-cheek because Forcefield is arguably Tokyo Police Club's most accessible and trendy album yet. Not that that's a bad thing, however.
– Alyson Shane (Twitter @alysonshane)
One’s heart may beat faster while envisioning what could have been; Coldplay’s sixth studio album Ghost Stories tells the sombre tale of lead singer Chris Martin’s personal life and his ending relationship to now ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow. The song titles alone give light to the fact that his life was taking a catawamptious turn and it was something he wanted to share with his fans along with the world. “Always in my Head”, “Magic”, “Ink” and “Oceans” ooze emotion, poetic undertones dripping dim colour off the lips of what I recall to be a vibrant and charismatic lead singer once upon a time. “A Sky Full of Stars”, co-written by Swedish DJ and record producer Avicii, is the band’s first dance tune inspired by house music and goes off the pre- forecasted gloom the rest of the tracks protrude. In “Midnight” Martin sings: “In the darkness before the dawn/In the swirling of this storm/When I'm rolling with the punches/And hope is gone/Leave a light, a light on.” Oh Gwyneth, what have you done? Maybe working nine to five isn’t as hard as working on a movie set.
Usually I don’t get mixed up in musicians lives, but I like Martin. He’s done tons of charity work, stopped eating meat on Mondays and usually delivers lyrics that make my skin tingle. This album screams suicide hotline and although I’m all for getting help, I yearn for “The Scientist” or even “Yellow”, which was the track I liked the least. There is no reason why that is. I don’t know why the other band members didn’t set up an intervention seeing how upset their front man was. Maybe they’re all going through break ups. None of this makes sense. Coldplay is touring this summer and I would love the opportunity to ask Martin why he named his first born Apple, but I don’t think he would answer me. All joking aside I can’t stop writing about this album, which should tell you that you should give it a listen and judge for yourself. Don’t listen to me, I’m down in the dumps from listening to this album 18 times. Maybe I’m cynical because I haven’t broken up with someone in years and yearn to write a sad song about them. Maybe my nickname is Apple and I am jealous of his 8-year-old daughter. Maybe I’m jealous of Gwyneth because she gets to work with Robert Downey Junior. I can’t be sure. All I can ask is that you at least listen to the last track of the album titled “O”, which has a three minute pause during the song. A perfect time for a refill of your favorite alcoholic beverage, take a trip to the corner store for some beef jerky, or perhaps make a call to your ex to tell him or her to f**k off!
– Erica Leon (Twitter @EricaLeon1)
I was walking down the street when the atmosphere around me suddenly shifted. Over the course of the next few minutes my reality was contorted and rearranged in a way that I never thought possible; there is Room on The Moon, this much I was sure of.
Artistically speaking, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult is still pushing the boundaries of acceptance. Spooky Tricks, the title of The Thrill Kill Kult's 11th full length studio album and their first in five years, is a loaded gun primed with elements of a galactic acid jungle, infused with just the right balance of desire for overindulgence and a misplaced childhood sense of adventure. That being said, there are a few key elements that I feel have been altered for the worse.
At times I feel as though I'm at a German rave in a cement cellar during late 1996, not that this is necessarily a bad thing but it seems too static. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't at the clubs in '96 but that isn't required to know that TKK were ahead of their time during that era. Synth technologies, for example, have come a long way in 18 years and while Lo-Fi is cool and all with the rest of the art form progressing so healthily, it makes it feel out of context and, at times, redundant. I have to be honest, the first time I walked through Spooky Tricks I wasn't exactly impressed. I think it felt a bit cheesy and somewhat hasty, especially compared to much of TKK's earlier work. However, I felt there could be something there and sure enough, somewhere around the middle of my second go it hit me; this album is great. Most of those elements that are out of context in other genres come together in this magnificent collage with such effortless passion, enticing you on with each beat and further note. What a beautiful piece. After consideration, I believe that more work of this calibre and artistic conviction is required for this art and industry to succeed and evolve. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult demonstrates, with exquisite vibrancy, why they deserve to be a classic in any self- respecting music aficionado's catalogue.
– Taylor Kerr
Buddy Rich was heralded as one of the great jazz drummers of all time. What was even more amazing is that he admitted to not even practicing or honing his craft after performances or during his off periods. He never even learned to read music. What came out of him was sheer brilliance and pure legend from the drums.
The staff at Lightyear Entertainment released a never before collection of over 70 minutes of drum solos that Buddy Rich performed during 1976 to 1977. Over these 70 minutes we hear the explosive energy, drive and passion that exudes from Rich’s drumming, which always sets the band on fire.
Upon listening, this is a set that is highly recommended for drum enthusiasts and students of drumming. It’s very rare to have a whole album dedicated to drum soloing, since for the average listener like myself there is no melody or band cohesiveness to draw from. This set primarily showed one dimension of Rich’s playing, while at times not drawing upon colours or different drumming patterns to break up the main monotony of the listening experience.
It would be nice for the organizers of the album to include differing solos and patterns of Rich’s playing to break up the monotony of high-energy pyrotechnics. All in all, it is a fine listen for drumming aficionados to appreciate the legend and the stylistic qualities of a great jazz legend.
– Conrad Gayle
If I said that this is what I have been waiting for, I might not be very far from right. Time will be the true judge of that, but for now I feel warmth inside of a void that I didn’t notice had become so large. The Toronto-based band Teenage Kicks, consisting of brothers Jeff and Peter van Helvoort, have just released their first full-length studio album entitled Spoils of Youth.
Since their inception in 2010, to say they have been busy from then on would be an understatement. After two consecutive self-produced EP’s as a five-piece act, Teenage Kicks had garnered enough cred to have Dan Weston, of City and Colour and Classified, do the mix for their third EP. This, of course, set the stage for what would come next; a tactically peculiar move, yet one chalked full of raw, artistic integrity. During April of last year, an announcement declared that the now four-piece band would travel to Hollywood and have recording icon Alain Johannes take the reigns behind their debut album. Several months later, as those following closely will already know, Peter van Helvoort took the responsibility of recording and producing the album onto his own shoulders, while shedding two other band mates. This would be no easy weight to carry.
This album is the result of hours of relentless passion and hard work -- and it shows. It's quite a difficult task to describe the music that is the Spoils of Youth, as it felt so natural to experience. The van Helvoort brothers invoke a sense of comfort that I was sure had been lost from the rock music scene today. Like true artists at work, Jeff and Peter piece together, with a very raw beauty, exactly how it feels to grow up a little bit rough during the ‘80s and ‘90s, or indeed at any period in time; full of optimism, doubt and a love for all things adventurous. Spoils of Youth is reminiscent of tire swings and sundown campsite cookouts when you're 12-years-old wearing an oversized sweater. At the same time, the album allows you to feel the pride and beauty in growing old; the passions found and lost, the bonds broken and made. A concoction only truly completed by an absolute, rock star attitude towards life in general. Seriously though, these dudes are tight. They really express a chapter of my life that I had almost forgotten about and with such artistic enthusiasm that I feel we grew up together. When I think back to all of my favourite classic albums and how they make me feel, I can certainly draw similarities both stylistically and emotionally. I think to myself how this could album could be part of my collection in 10 years. It's refreshing to know that such artists are comfortable with themselves and have enough balls and integrity to push for more from their work. There will be much more from Teenage Kicks, this you can be sure of!
– Taylor Kerr
The thoughts that lie beneath the film, the thin veil of disguise, are not always what they seem. So it is with Thought Beneath Film's Cartographers. It would be easy to dismiss this album as nothing more than a bubbly, power-pop cocktail. However, beneath all those bouncy beats are powerful, sophisticated lyrics; beneath the film there is so much more.
Cartographers is the first full-length album for the Stoney Creek, Ontario based trio. Three years in the making, it was mixed and mastered by legendary Grammy Award winners Tom Lord-Alge and Bob Ludwig respectively. The result is a clean, razor sharp sound, catchy memorable tunes and refined lyrics. The upbeat melodies contrast with the lyrics woven with teenage angst, searching for purpose and finding one's path. Like the title says, Cartographers, we are finding out own map.
The tone is set early on with razor-sharp guitar riffs and exploding drum beats in the opening track, “Cartography”. It immediately sets the tone of urgency that underlies the theme. “The Art Of Giving Up”, Sixty Six” and “If I Could Fix You (You Know That I Would)” have great melodies and slick vocal harmonies that make you want to sing along. The last track, “This Time”, starts off as a melodic ballad and ends in an orchestra-driven rock song, which somehow leaves you with a sense of reckoning and hope.
Cartographers is the kind of album you want to play in your car at maximum volume with your feet out the open windows on a warm sunny day. It is bound to be the soundtrack of summer 2014 with its catchy tunes, punk pop beats and memorable lyrics. Overall, an impressive debut album.
– Trish Melanson Hill (Twitter @spydrgyrl)
In honour of Ronnie James Dio's incredible music career and immeasurable influence on heavy metal and hard rock, the best of today's metal bands congregated to make an absolutely crushing tribute album that will immortalize RJD's musical legend. This Is Your Life was put together by heavy metal royalty such as Anthrax, Rob Halford, Lemmy Kilmister, Hailstorm, Metallica, Tenacious-D and the list goes on. I truly had goose bumps on multiple occasions when spinning this release for the first time. The track “Rainbow in the Dark” featuring Corey Taylor of Slipknot on vocals seriously sets the tone for what's in store on the album. It's an absolutely CRUSHING version of the song with impeccable production value and stunning vocals. Tenacious-D’s version of “The Last In Line” is equally impressive, with Dave Grohl on drums and the mighty Jack Black on lead vocals. Black sounds as serious as a heart attack here, sidelining the comedy act and really delivering a vocal performance that would make RJD proud. Halestorm's “Straight Through The Heart” is one of the highlights of the album, with singer Lzzy Hale absolutely destroying the mic and really making her presence felt with an untouchable vocal take. Killswitch Engage do a commendable version of “Holy Diver”, a big task taken on a by band that could easily handle such an epic song. After such great performances by the artists mentioned in the above tracks, I was rather unimpressed with Metallica's contributions of Ronnie's Rising Medley featuring “A Light in The Black”, “Tarot Woman”, “Stargazer” and “Kill The King”. A poor choice when they could have instead REALLY kicked one good song's ass.
This is Your Life is HIGHLY recommended for any fan of Dio, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell and any other act RJD has associated with in the hard rock and metal world.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
It’s hard to believe that this is Mark Everett's eleventh album. Easy-listening and gentle, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett is unlike his previous work and is disappointing.
After a brief intro track, “Where I'm At”, “Parallels” starts off the album with a classic folk feel to it. With a sound reminiscent of American folk musician Tim Hardin, this track is probably the best thing on here. Unfortunately, what follows is quite samey. There is nothing jarring or unpleasant, but tracks like “Lockdown Hurricane”, “Series of Misunderstandings” and “Kindred Spirit” slip by with little variation, making little impression.
There are some pleasant moments among the album including the exhausted sounding “Agatha Chang”, the clean guitar outtro of “A Swallow In The Sun” and the spritely shuffle in “Where I'm From”. But nothing here sounds like it matters. By the time you get to “Gentleman's Choice” you transition from not noticing the tracks to willing the album to be over. It’s not even downbeat enough to mope along to. Try again, Mr. E.
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
Electronic duo Young Magic released their second album, Breathing Statues, under Carpark Records. The band creates a collection of 10 tracks that all emit a psychedelic and surreal feel. Their tunes exhibit whimsical melodies, abstract vocals and distinct beats that induce a smooth and captivating listening experience. The entire album takes you on a trip better than any mind-altering drug. Breathing Statues is a great contribution to the electronic-psychedelic music scene. Standout tracks include “Cobra” and “Captcha”.
– Emily Fin
Advanced Basics is the fourth studio release from USS, the Markham-Stouffville-bred strum n’ bass duo Ashley Buchholz and Jason “Human Kebab” Parsons. Buchholz, songwriter/mad scientist-in-the-psych-ward blends dark humour and dad humour (the line ‘formaldehyde and seek’ in “Nepal”, for instance). This adds a necessary buoyancy to the weighty subject matter, which threads addiction, the difficulties of loving damaged people (as a damaged person), and a buttload of heartbreak. The character of Kebab-as-hypeman is quieter than ever, opening the album with a quick “Here we go…” in “Hydrogenuine” and a few hearty woo’s in “Yin Yang”. His presence is felt in his trademark scratching and filthy beats. USS are more confident in each other and their abilities on this record, again joined by producer Tawgs Salter (Approved, Lights’ Siberia) who also exudes a deeper understanding of the band. The album sounds like USS, but more developed than ever before. They’ve come back from summer vacation with breasts, and it’s hard to stop staring.
The ambitious “Built to Break” finds Buchholz at his angstiest; “I don’t mean to trip/ but it’s easier than dealing with it” is balanced by a triumphant arrangement including manager and one-time Not By Choice drummer Liam Killeen. The single “Yin Yang” almost never was — the release of the album was pushed back to accommodate its production. Its addition balances the more morose tracks on the album and serves as an easy analogy for the band’s dynamic – the passive, reflective, sensitive Buchholz contrasting the aggressive, extrovert Parsons, and in each, a dollop of the other.
If you hate USS, this isn’t the album that will change your mind, but casual fans and diehards alike will dig it.
– Linda Julia Paolucci (Twitter @Lindiglo)
I was really excited when I heard that Jay Malinowski, the singer-songwriter and Bedouin Soundclash frontman, was releasing new music after listening to his latest project, Martel by Jay Malinowski & The Deadcoast. After listening to it dozens of times, I am still just as excited. Martel’s 18 songs are divided into two hemispheres, the Pacific and the Atlantic, and together they make up a rich, captivating concept album filled with emotional history and stories of love, loss, death and despair.
Martel takes you on an adventure that offers a taste of such disparate sounds as California pop, New Orleans jazz, Spanish flamenco, Louisiana Cajun, Old World classical, Maritime shanties, ragtime piano and vaudeville. Malinowski’s warm voice brings all these different sounds together as he acts as our guide on this beautiful (sometimes upbeat but mostly dark) journey through his Huguenot ancestor Charles Martel’s history, as well as his own search for answers.
Whether you’re drawn to music or lyrics, you'll find something you love in Martel. Malinowski's piano sets the mood for many songs, and the strings from Vancouver-based trio The End Tree, who collaborated with Malinowski to form Jay Malinowski & The Deadcoast, are creative and intriguing. Malinowski's songwriting is powerful and creates beautiful images, strong characters and compelling stories that sweep you away.
The haunting opening track, “Main-A-Dieu”, immediately draws us in with tolling bells, poetic spoken word and a feeling of waves washing over you. From here, it’s an adventure that just gets better with every listen, as each song on the album corresponds to a point on the map. The album closes with the beautiful, piano-driven “Low, Low, Low” that tells us a bit about how Malinowski got here. “In this world I learned to bare my teeth and grin,” he sings. “I like to think where it goes ain’t where it’s been.”
You’ll want to settle into a comfortable spot and spend a lot of time with Martel. This is not background music; this is music that deserves to be savoured, as Malinowski invites you to share his journey, and at different times to dance, sing along or just close your eyes and listen.
The Martel experience doesn't end after the final notes of “Low, Low, Low”. Malinowski will release a novella companion to the album, Skulls & Bones (Letters From A Sailor To A Long Lost Granddaughter), and there is an interactive website at www.whoismartel.com.
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
The Mary Onettes have strayed.
The Swedish band’s self-titled debut doubled, seamlessly, as ‘80s jangle-pop. If you didn’t know it was new, you might have gone crate digging for some dollar vinyl. Think The Church or The Cure circa “Just Like Heaven”. Heavy on pedigree and long on nostalgia, but it wasn’t as if the band had merely aped the sound to tap into an easy pre-existing audience. The music had depth and an appreciation for its enduring formula. A good hook fueled by jangly guitar, a touch of synth and a dollop of angst.
Since that 2007 full-length debut, the Mary Onettes have increasingly become their own band, still rooted in that mid-‘80s garden of delights, but remaining modern. On their latest record, Portico:, the best tracks reflect the marriage of modern indie-pop with Reagan-era melancholy. “Naïve Dream” again taps into The Cure before spinning off in a direction that recalls the Shout Out Louds and School of Seven Bells. Granted the leap crosses no great sonic chasms, but the shift isn’t always as seamless. For example, “Silence Is a Gun” shows the ragged edges of their evolution to become something more than an ‘80s band that got lost on their way to 2014.
Their aspirations are noble, and I find myself nostalgic for their pitch perfect debut; a record that displayed a sound that was almost too perfect, too complete for a first release. In certain respects, the growth of the Mary Onettes makes Portico: sound like a more traditional debut: rough around the edges and endearing in its imperfections. No matter how far the band strays it’ll always have that anchor in another place and time, comforting listeners with a fuzzy brand of earnest familiarity.
This brief seven-track LP ends just when it seems destined for a crescendo. “Bells For A Stranger” or “Portico: 2014” could easily soundtrack a love scene for a late-‘80s film starring Eric Stoltz with blustery curtains and close-ups of hands grabbing bed sheets. The latter track, in particular, demonstrates some lush orchestration and sweeping, melodic synth. But like the album as a whole, it all ends a bit early and leaves us wanting that last fist pump into the sky as the credits roll.
– James David Patrick (Twitter @30hertzrumble)
Since they first introduced Mogwai Young Team to the world, this band has made the listening experience in itself an art form. With droning synths, creepy crescendos, and heartbeat drum thumps, Mogwai’s eighth studio album, Rave Tapes, upholds their distinctive sound.
Our go-to, instrumental music Scotsmen prove that their sound can still be fluid with the times, but will never deter from true post-rock. After working on the creepy, ambient soundtrack of the French show Les Revenants, there are a lot of influences that could be found in Rave Tapes. There’s cinematic narrative to be found in songs like “Deesh” and the album’s first single “Remurdered”– they create suspense with dynamics moving from each end of the spectrum. Later into “Remurdered”, Barry Burns’ new synth kicks in at a heavier pace and one soon understands the ironic title of the album (they haven’t really gone electronic).
The beauty of tracks like “Hexon Bogon” and “Heard About You Last Night” could only have been made possible by the originality of the guitar riffs that uphold it. I mean, it’s also nothing without everything else, but what long-time Mogwai fans can all agree to nerd out about is definitely the power the guitar has to completely change the ambience and feel of a song. Expect no vocals until “Blues Hour”, a soft ballad that moves slowly from heartfelt piano melodies to guitar fuzz, and then back to piano. “The Lord Is Out Of Control” brings autotune vocals into the realm of steady paced rhythm. The dynamics formula is what makes Rave Tapes so intriguing, and is what ultimately keeps the listener hooked.
If you were looking for any samples, “Repelish” includes a spoken word dialogue from “a Christian radio talk show guy” according to Mogwai in an interview with Pop Matters. The sample rants on about pseudo-Satanic messages in Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” when played in reverse.
But one thing Mogwai can’t reverse is their long, successful journey as a band. They have a musical formula you can’t beat.
– Emily Rivas (Twitter @RivasEmily)
The long awaited, debut full-length album from Toronto's Loopity Goofs is LOADED with killer beats, sample and grooves. Gord Shields and Scott Atherton are the brains behind this groove ensemble and have been working their talents on the club scene as DJ’s and producers since 1998. The duo’s musical catalogue includes over 28 releases of remixes and original singles leading up to the release of Secret Gems Hidden Weapons. Loopity Goofs have built themselves a solid reputation on the house music scene and have toured all over North America, spinning sets from Toronto to Miami.
Tracks like “It Ain’t Eeasy” show that LG are at the forefront of the their musical genre and can push killer samples and melodies with wicked anticipation before dropping monster beats up in your face. “Falling” is another great example of the depth and diversity of the music on this album; this track incorporates Asian and Middle Eastern sounds along with dynamic percussion samples that drive the tune along ever so nicely. Digging deeper into the album, you’ll eventually come across the track “Most Respected”, a tune with a serious gangsta lean. The song features a famous one-liner from the movie Black Dynamite: “Gentlemen, every one of you are the most respected men in your region”. The tune is dark, perplexing, and somewhat unsettling, making it one of the best tracks on the album. There are no dull moments on this release.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
The Portland-based, doom metal band Ephemeros delivers All Hail Corrosion, a debut album marking the beginning of a descent into eternal madness. A short, three-track work of art including the title track “Stillborn Workhorse”, this album exerts an abysmal continuum of slow paced, tormented guitar riff propulsions and guttural vocals that stem from the most internal demonic dwellings of mankind. One should be prepared for a journey into a foreboding plane of darkened obscurity.
In essence, the album describes a desolate state of madness and despair, free of anything that resembles even a flicker of happiness. The third and final track, “Soilbringer”, embodies this realm of the damned; tortured wails pierce through the lumbering flow of constant despondency.
This album is like being caught in a violent maelstrom that drags you along with everything else into a spiraling pit of nothingness - in slow motion. It’s an inevitable end to all that is and once was, churning in wretched filth and insanity.
Fans of doom metal will enjoy this album and what it has to offer. I give this a four-star rating only because I wished it contained more than three tracks.
– Christopher Grant
In a few words, Flash Lightnin’s new album, For The Sinners, kicks mammoth ass. If you go back in time to the killer four on the floor stadium rock bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s, like AC/DC, ZZ-Top and Aerosmith, you'll find many similarities with the super catchy tunes that FL have served up on this amazing release. Core members Darren Glover and Darcy Yates have created their own addictive brand of fuzz rock that is bound to reach far beyond their local Toronto music venues.
With a career boost in mind, FL strategically commissioned the talents of renowned drummer and Canadian super producer Gavin Brown to get their unique sound out to the masses. With Brown lending his talents to the recording process and guiding the outcome of the release, it’s no wonder why the album is picking up so much momentum so quickly. The first single, “One Pill”, is currently getting plenty of radio attention north of the border, catching the attention of ZZ-Top front man Billy Gibbons. Gibbons invited the band to join them on their 2014 Canadian tour – something far beyond FL’s expectations. It seems obvious that the future is looking VERY bright for Flash Lightnin’.
Standout tracks include “Born With Money”, a super catchy jam with a deadly bass line and a guitar riff that’ll make you sweat. Glover and Yates lay down tasteful grooves and a stunning chorus. Following this amazing opener is the band’s second single “Dirty Penny”, a super funky tune that brings the sound of Big Sugar to mind. This song has a recommended volume preset of CRAZY LOUD! Next up, we have a strong ballad titled “Hard Feeling” – here’s a tune with sweet acoustic guitars and very tasteful vocals that give it the appropriately rustic Americana sound it needs. Finally, the big single “One Pill” is untouchable; it’s a monster tune with huge potential. This song would convince anyone that FL is the next big Canadian band to watch.
The only track I found a little too formulaic and somewhat flat was “Let’s Get High”. It didn’t stack up that well with the rest of the album’s incredible tunes. Overall, For The Sinners is an absolutely outstanding release from start to finish and is likely the REAL starting point for this band to becoming a household name.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
With several similarities between them, Doomsquad has been compared to the psychedelic-pop purveyors group Prince Rama. While both sibling groups have a habit for enhancing their narrative with everyday sounds and using their voices as an added instrument, there’s something subtly despondent brewing beneath the Blumas sisters’ breathy vocals.
Produced by Leon Taheny, whose credits include bands Austra and Dusted, Kalaboogie by Toronto/Montreal group Doomsquad is a difficult album to pin down in any concrete fashion. It’s an evocative, adhesive listen where tracks are assembled to flow seamlessly into one another. It’s a slice of nebulous new wave pulled from each corner of the globe as it explores the spiritual enlightenment of its world influences. Making industrial drones more inviting by draping them with delicate wind chimes, the album is like a score for a distorted mythical fable.
The indistinguishable bellows on “Disremember/Dismemberment” are reminiscent of ‘70s soul queens, but anchored by heavy and impenetrable electronica. Kalaboogie follows a set of influences only to tear them to shreds and fixate on a set of new ones a moment later. On the track “Head Spirit (For our Mechanical Time)”, lyrics are yelped over a darkly tropical baseline. There isn’t a single discernible line fit to sing along with, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t try to. An impressive track that never loses its earworming momentum with an insistent drumbeat give room for lush melodies to disappear, creating space for harsher ones to swirl into the track.
For all its abstract musings and ubiquitous song titles, Kalaboogie is built around its own notion of poptimism. From Trevor Blumas’ James Murphy-esque screeches, to transitions that gently ease the listener in (unlike other similarly branded artists that avoid memorable melodies) Doomsquad have a leg up on their conspirators. They’ve realized that the best way to pull outsiders into the psychosis is to slyly lure them in.
An earlier cover of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” indicates that Doomsquad might be more inspired by classic sounds than they care to let on. Maybe an unrecognizable, no wave Rumours cover album is still on the table.
– Melissa Vincent (Twitter @MellVincent)
Dine Alone Records
After nearly two years of endless recordings and dubbing, Noah Gundersen’s debut full-length album has finally come into fruition. Self-produced, raw and emotionally driven, Ledges is a wonderful showcase of the staggering talent Gundersen possesses. Gundersen has been gaining a slew of followers through social media and beyond since his first EP, Brand New World, was released in 2008. His gaining popularity was evident during this year’s highly anticipated North American tour, having several sold-out shows prior to the album’s debut. The tracks on Ledges are beautifully crafted, featuring Gundersen and his sister Abby’s layered vocals, acoustic melodies and brilliant violin interludes.
The traditional American folk influences are apparent in the compositions of several songs, echoing Bob Dylan’s gusto and Leonard Cohen’s harmonic expression. Biblical hymns and passages can also be found within the lyrics of songs such as, “Poor Man’s Son” and “Ledges”, as Gundersen playfully spins popular quotations on their head, “And I take a little too much / Without giving back / If blessed are the meek, then I’m cursed”.
The creative efforts off of Ledges will give young indie-darlings something to aspire to as they sing along to the addiction-driven song “Cigarettes”, and the heart-wrenching “Dying Now”. With Gundersen’s graceful delivery and each recording’s deliberate narrative arc, this album is sure to be heralded as one of the industry’s top debuts of 2014. Be certain to grab your tickets quickly, as Noah Gundersen’s Ledges tour is going to be one for the books.
– Ariel Dawn Lando (Twitter @ArielDawnLando)
This Hamilton, Ontario native caught my attention last September with the release of her slick, electrifying electro-R&B debut album Pull My Hair Back. Now Lanza has dropped a modcast mixtape for Modular, securing her creative intelligence and credibility as an artist.
The new mixtape, which features cuts from Tink, Shlohmo and Ty Dolla $ign, has the perfect blend of ‘90s dance elements, classic R&B hooks, hip-hop and electronic highs. The transitions from one section of the mixtape to the next are seamless and catchy.
If you are longing for an intriguing blend of classic hip-hop, electronic beats and R&B rhythms with a modern twist to jam along to, Lanza’s 34-minute mixtape should feed your appetite.
– Lindsay Becker (Twitter @LmBecks)
I have a half-baked theory that music occupies space in the world. The great music, the music that continuously rewards upon repeat listening and informs and deepens this crazy human existence of ours, occupies space. It becomes a tangible entity in the world, real matter comprised of particles and atoms and whatnot. Empty music, music that exists but does not change us, remains a vapid entity. It exists ephemerally for a brief moment and then departs.
Nicole Atkins’ music exploded in 2007 upon the release of her amazing full-length album Neptune City, a record that coined her self-proclaimed “pop-noir” sound. Listen to the track “Maybe Tonight” to get a taste of Atkins at the height of her powers. It’s a tremendously nostalgic track that recalls Loretta Lynn, Jenny Lewis and perhaps the pop vocals of the disco era (without all the extra disco ball hullabaloo). Her sound has undergone some renovation since then (as well as a couple of record labels and bandmates) exploring blues, ‘60s psychedelic and proggish rock. Her latest album, the crowd-funded Slow Phaser reflects these varied and eclectic tastes and tendencies with a more studied approach. Slow Phaser attempts to be permanent and weightless, pop and avant-garde, getting lost somewhere in the morass in between.
For better and worse, Slow Phaser feels like a record crafted with jukebox schizophrenia and accessibility in mind. The opening track, “Who Killed the Moonlight”, again recalls Loretta Lynn (her vocal style as it strays into her North Carolina roots will forever draw comparisons) but the musicality doesn’t deserve the complexity of her sultry, sexy, playful crooning. It ultimately underwhelms as it trends toward poptastic banality and confounding tempo shifts. The trend continues on “It’s Only Chemistry,” a saccharine sing-a-long that never really rises above the repetitive chorus. “Girl You Look Amazing” will surely find some crossover appeal through an immediately accessible and obsequious chorus – fans of the thematically related “Hey Girl” Ryan Gosling Internet meme will find much to like. But at the same time, Slow Phaser feels similarly like an Internet meme, a transient album without concrete matter.
Despite Atkins’ immense talent, Slow Phaser mucks about in various pop styles, crisp and weightless, without latching wholeheartedly onto the denser “noir” part that made Neptune City complex, relevant and occasionally intimidating. There are late-evening shadows of that early, raw and uncalculated brilliance on “We Wait Too Long,” and “Gasoline Bride,” songs that rise above the spit-polish. Here Atkins allows herself to cut loose, losing sight of the finely tuned, downscaled precision if only for a few too-fleeting moments. If there’s one song that represents the best of Atkins’ output on this album it might be “The Worst Hangover.” The boozy, blues guitar supports her voice and never placates with a saucy or repetitive hook.
Slow Phaser is an impossible record to dislike – Atkins’ bravado and originality could never be repressed – but it’s also a record that’s hard to wholly celebrate despite flourishes of greatness.
– James David Patrick (Twitter @30hertzrumble)
“What does a song hold? Was it love?” is the opening question posed on Carrier, the latest LP from San Francisco-based band The Dodos. This opening lyric sets the tone for the album –solemn, thoughtful and searching for answers.
Inspired by one-time guitarist Christopher Reimer, who joined the band for a brief time before his death in 2012, Carrier is clearly a way for remaining members Meric Long and Logan Kroeber to try and come to terms with their loss. Listening to the album, the audience can hear the band struggling with Reimer’s death and making sense of their loss through their music.
As such, the songs tend to be more minimalistic than ones found on previous albums like No Color or Time to Die. In particular, tracks like the opening “Transformer” and “Confidence” begin as deeply contemplative before picking up halfway through into more percussive sounds that fans of the band are more familiar with. However, these transitions feel almost unnatural, as the listener is jerked from one train of thought to another, led along by Long’s cosmic questions: “If I had something to complain about / If I took your place, would it hurt?”
Though the album falls short in comparison to earlier works, Carriers is clearly an important album for The Dodos. Full of sincere and obviously raw emotion, it’s definitely worth a listen.
– Alyson Shane (Twitter @alysonshane)
Live At Brixton is a punishing set of pure metal mayhem that only Mastodon can deliver. Having previously seen these guys live, I’m not at all surprised by their technical perfection. Mastodon was destined to be a powerhouse headliner and they prove it here at the Brixton stop of the 2012 tour for their The Hunter album. This live album has 24 tracks and delivers killer originals like “Crystal Skull”, “Capillarian Crest”, “Colony of Birchmen” and “Circle of Cysquatch”, keeping hardcore fans on their feet while loving every second of the concert. There is next to no banter between songs – they keep the punishment coming with no breaks. One of my favourite moments is during the intro of the final song “Creature Lives”; it’s a trippy, cinematic piece that reminds me of the intro to Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil album. It adds a much-needed break into the insane pace of the concert. In terms of its production, I found this release to be lacking in audio quality and would have liked to hear a more polished end product. There’s muddiness throughout the songs and I found that the vocals were not coming through that well at times. With that aside, this release comes highly recommended to any Mastodon fan out there.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Looking for a last-minute gift for the glam rock/new wave/adventurous music fan in your life? Check out New Music for Amnesiacs, the five-disc box set and accompanying hardcover book devoted to Sparks.
For over forty years, Los Angeles-born brothers Ron and Russell Mael have been making strange and wonderful music under the name Sparks. Their brief decampment to London in the era of Bowie made them bizarre teen idols – Russell with his incredible, operatic soprano and androgynous looks to match, and Ron with his seething stage presence and, shall we say, abbreviated mustache. Their early chart heyday granted them a devoted core audience and allowed them to collaborate with notable artists such as Giorgio Moroder, Jane Wiedlin and filmmaker Guy Maddin.
New Music for Amnesiacs serves as an autobiography of sorts of the Maels, chronicling their musical and artistic evolution. Over the span of five discs, the brothers take us from their earliest work as Halfnelson, through their years of ubiquity, and into their more adventurous periods. While not all their material works – “Little Girls” from their 1980 France-only release Terminal Jive brings the mix to a halt after the brilliance of the Number 1 in Heaven tracks – you can hear the band’s willingness to experiment and play with music.
Though New Music doesn’t include as much unreleased material as one would hope, it’s great to hear some of the harder-to-find tracks, such as their collaboration with French pop duo Les Rita Mitsouko and their early ‘90s single “National Crime Awareness Week”. The bonus disc includes the first official release of “Islington N1”, the song commemorating their series of concerts in London in 2007. Thanks to a sparkling (heh) remaster, the songs have never sounded better.
The accompanying hardcover book traces the artistic and commercial rises and falls of the Mael brothers and puts the material into a greater context. First editions of the set also include a wealth of extras that will make die-hard fans squeal, such as handwritten lyrics straight from the pen of Ronald Mael, reproduction contact sheets of the Maels’ portrait session with Richard Avedon, pinbacks, and tickets.
If you’re a fan of daring music from the past half-decade, Sparks is likely to be your favourite band’s favourite band. New Music for Amnesiacs represents a great point of departure for new fans and a must-have for longtime admirers.
– Chelsea Spear (Twitter @two_ontheaisle)
After a break-up lasting a few years, industrial metal band Ministry re-emerged with their latest album From Beer to Eternity, declaring itself the ultimate Ministry comeback. Front man Al Jourgensen’s harsh vocals and heavy guitar riffs contrast with the catchy drumming and groovy bass lines on the album. The unsettling intro entitled “Hail To His Majesty” contains what could be trance-inducing properties if it weren’t for the aggressive expulsions of profanity and bass drum kicks. The second track, “Punch in the Face”, stands true to its title as well as Ministry’s roots by delivering a fast-paced, anger-fueled discharge – a true moshing theme song. The heavy riffing is consistent through the entire song and feels no need to alter itself.
Each track can be labeled as stand-alone tracks, as they each have a different feel than the next. As with all other work crafted by Ministry, the album features various politically themed vocal samples. This is very noticeable in the track titled “The Horror” as an accentuation to the groovy drum and bass allocation. As soon as this low-end, mellow track finishes, the album picks up the pace with “Side FX Include Mikey’s Middle Finger”. This is a key track that really delivers a full on industrial infused metal assault equipped with extremely short yet intense guitar solos, which then climax with a series of sporadic auditory projections (leaving you slightly disturbed). The newly released single “PermaWar” does not seem to stand up to the intensity and craftsmanship that most of the other key tracks bring, but may be the first single because it’s more accessible to a broader audience.
In its entirety, the album presents itself as a comprehensive work of anarchical resonance. It’s an epic finale to the long tenure the band has established throughout their career.
– Christopher Grant