Review – “Landslag Norður Íslands (The Landscape of North Iceland)” – The Gateless Gate

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

gateless

Building Ikea furniture while listening to ambient Northern Icelandic allusions is a particular kind of 21st Century strange. The weather outside is slush and the atmosphere indoors is box-derived, many pieces of corrugated packing material scattered around; but the recent album from The Gateless Gate, titled Landslag Norður Íslands (The Landscape of North Iceland), lets my mind wander beyond the limitations of the place I find myself in, and to scatter my thoughts on distant shores.

I’d been listening to Robert Rich’s Somnium for a great deal of the weekend, spent piling boxes into a van and then unpiling those same receptacles into a new apartment, so ambient has been on my mind, but nothing quite so concrete as this. The Gateless Gate has assembled archival sounds of the Icelandic landscape — like water lapping with the patience of the universe — and coupled them with rich instrumentation. Synthesizers rattle off flute lines, wandering caves melodies, cello vibrations, swelling imitations of the wind.

How do you pay tribute to a landscape as magical and captivating as Iceland? You capture an essence, record a form of what you see, and trace your inspiration back to its source. “View of the Greenland Sea north of Siglufjörður, 1″ is an appropriately expressive and respectful piece. Over seventeen minutes of lapping water and swelling murmurs of melody, the track breeds visions of black expanses of drifting tides and wide open skies; the voice of the place, the consonance of that vast gulf of land and sea, finds a worthy imitation.

The pace of transformation for The Gateless Gate is very gradual indeed. The sound changes only when it’s necessary, shifting in a direction that always feels like a natural extension from the last. The delightful “Hverir Geothermal Area” shows how, even in a short space of time, the tones and stretches of sound does not need to jump in a wide range of directions to attract the listener’s ear. This is krautrock simplicity, and it works very well when illustrating a geography with music.

The zen found in the Landslag Norður Íslands (The Landscape of North Iceland) is powerful. My Ikea madness was over in a couple of listens of this killer ambient album. If you have a project you need to calm yourself for, or if you just plain love Iceland, give The Gateless Gate your attention: they deserve it.

Top Track: “View of the Greenland Sea north of Siglufjörður, 1″

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Noontide” – Humans

review by Chris Mateinoontide-cover

Peter Ricq and Robbie Slade have been dispatching lo-fi-influenced electronic music to the Vancouver scene and beyond since 2009, whether working together as Humans or through Ricq’s various side projects including Gang Signs and Ladyfrnd. The duo gained notoriety with their Avec Mes Mecs and Traps EPs; they have refined their synth-powered formula of their earlier material while keeping its strongest elements intact. This is a record packed full of punchy arrangements and toothy synths built for the darkened indie dance floor.

It’s not all 808 kicks and claps and bleep-bloops, though, there’s lots of experimentation and variation to be had across this record as well as some wicked hooks. Some of Noontide’s tracks blend chilly, vaporous electronics with spatters of sun and warmth. “Over Again” and the sparkly calypso vibes of “Watusi” for example. “All My” pulls off a sort of strutting Moroder gambit, while “Ennio” turns a backbone of thundering tribal drums, appropriately Morriconian gang vocals and cascading delays into the album’s most ambitious track as Slade’s vocals rise from a fragile mumble to stand at the head of a fierce dance-rocking procession.

“Follow” is a standout, boiling thick filtered arpeggios and swirling vocoder together in a sinister cauldron. “Gotta Go Home” even swings into driving rock territory. Closer “At the Beach” is the only sore spot – it might share an irreverent, repetitious bloodline with Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” but otherwise its inclusion feels unnecessary.

Humans have added much-deserved production depth and polish to their sound on Noontide without compromising their energy, and it makes for a damn good listen. This isn’t just a record for diehard dance-music heads, either. Its blend of influences from indie, rock and modern electronic music has created something not EDM-robotic, but more, well… human.

Check it out at their website and catch them on tour throughout Canada in the coming months.

Top Tracks: “Ennio”, “Follow”, “Watusi”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “VOX” – Alissa Vox Raw

alissa-Vox-coverfrontonly-webreviewed by Michael Thomas

Though the album hinted at a few years ago hasn’t seen the light of day yet, the very busy Alissa Klug has finally unleashed her a cappella goodness as Alissa Vox Raw with an EP. Vox sees the sound engineer by trade creating a mini-choir with just her own voice, and touching on a variety of genres.

Her profession certainly helps with the EP—mixed by Harrison Fine and mastered by Karl Machat. There’s a great degree of control over the various harmonies and “instrumentals” that prevent her songs from ever becoming a cacophony. And it’s pleasingly varied, moving from soul to R&B to a Caribbean on the turn of a dime.

The EP has some soulful bookending, so to speak. “Where I’m Going, I Don’t Know” and “Don’t Keep Me Waiting” both show that Klug has some major power in those pipes. Both feature some nice backing vocals and vocal percussion. The former song seems to be about the unclear path life lays out for somebody, while the latter is kind of an ultimatum—keep up or ship out.

The other five songs see Klug experimenting a little more with pitch and genre, and the more she ventures off the beaten path the more exciting she becomes. “My Sweetheart” at first sounds like just a take on old-timely soul. And while that’s pleasant, with a bit more than a minute left the beat slows down and everything feels distorted—it’s a great twist.

“Down By the Sea” invites listeners to feel like they’re underwater—there’s just the faintest hint of echo on Klug’s vocals as she sings about “taking your letter down by the sea” but being unable to wash away the words. ”

Then there’s “The Path,” which is a much slower build before any words are sung. It gives the song a more contemplative, almost spiritual atmosphere. And then “You See Me Coming” takes a left turn into R&B, with Klug’s “percussion” at its most pronounced.

The crown jewel of the EP is undoubtedly “Don’t Ask Me Why,” which features wobbly vocalizations and hand claps to create a tropical atmosphere. Despite the relaxing setup, the lyrics about the struggles to make money and be happy are relateable to anyone.

Some great VOX, indeed.

Top Track: “Don’t Ask Me Why”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Hey Rosetta! and Stars @ The Vogue Theatre (Vancouver)

Hey Rosetta!

Hey Rosetta!

by Chris Matei

Last night’s set at the Vogue Theatre certainly proved that Hey Rosetta! lead man Tim Baker has the kind of boyish charm, matched to a set of broadly emotive vocal chops, that makes people shout loudly from the crowd about wanting to have his future babies. He and his band kept the bulk of the audience in the palm of their hand, singing along to practically every word, in their role as the opening act on a two-night bill shared with the esteemed Montreal indie veterans, Stars.

With grand, uplifting lyrics that would fit just perfectly if doodled in a college-ruled notebook (sighing: “I wish I could just let my red heart show, too! They understand!” – as heard on Into Your Lungs’ “Red Heart” ) and a fondness for the kind of variegated band structure (horns, violin, cello, keys, lots and lots of percussion) adopted by many a band in the post-Arcade Fire world, Hey Rosetta! nonetheless stand head and shoulders above the mush-mouthed, whoa-oh-ohing Mumfords and all their legion of bastard banjo-wielding indie Sons. They have honed this talent for many years now (since their formation in 2005) leading up to the release of their newest record, Second Sight.

The band cuts through the typical indie-folk, largely with the dynamic strength of their collective musicianship and a marked refusal to take themselves too seriously. Baker and his cohorts (Adam Hogan, Phil Maloney, Josh Ward, Kinley Dowling, Romesh Thavanathan, and Mara Pellerin) are very good at making textured arrangements that simmer and bubble into ecstatic, jammy bursts of riotous volume and colour without sounding forced. They can hit home-run-sized swells of emotion like a smilingly polite, super-posi-vibe, Atlantic Canadian version of Mogwai: one that you can’t help but want to take home to Mom.

Stars, on the other hand, are older and wiser, physically and musically. They’re cynical and worldly in ways that could make Hey Rosetta!’s bright-eyed exclamation point want to go home and curl itself into a question mark on the couch. Torquil Campbell, Amy Millan, Evan Cranley, Pat McGee and Chris Seligman have been making music together for fifteen years now, and their band has evolved dramatically along the way: cool, ironic detachment has segued into the blissful rush of first meetings, those meetings flourished into real bonds, those bonds have been tested and broken, and we’ve been left to sort out the lingering phantoms of what once was, all over the course of the band’s work from Nightsongs to The Five Ghosts.

Stars

Stars

On their more recent records, Stars have taken up work as the gatekeepers of a kind of alternate universe discotheque, built for all those misfit souls to dance and drink away their miseries, to celebrate and occasionally get overwhelmed by it all and smash their Goddamn glasses. 2014’s No One Is Lost feels like the apex of a notable shift in their sound, from wistful, heartfelt chamber pop to slick dance anthems that spit glitter in the face of fate. Aside from the performance of a few choice cuts from their Arts & Crafts-era records, this more current, neon-coloured vibe took centre stage to energize the Vogue. As the latter album’s title track demands, “put your hands up, ‘cause everybody dies” – and on this night the crowd were more than happy to oblige.

The heart of the band’s live show has always been the ever-changing onstage personality that develops between Campbell and Millan: him vibrating with intensity, doing laps of the stage and shouting (sometimes stoked with with rage, other times with giddy zeal), her balancing deftly between grace and glam only to bust out her guitar and transform into something of a rock goddess a few bars down the line. It’s a pleasure to watch them both – not to mention Seligman’s joyous percussive abandon or Cranley’s penchant for surprisingly athletic leaps.

I could not think of two more compelling Canadian bands to share a stage such as this one. Both have worked hard to stand out in the increasingly murky harbour that is “indie music,” whether that means refining their sound or morphing it into something entirely new.

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Haydn, Beethoven, and Canning at the Campbell House Museum

by Anna Alger

Stereo Live Toronto’s collaboration with Brendan Canning last night was a uniquely beautiful event, marking the first of three concerts in a series of intimate evenings at the Campbell House Museum. A string quartet composed of Edwin Huizinga (violin), Keith Hamm (viola), Joseph Johnson (cello), and Aaron Schwebel (violin) performed two sets of selected works by Haydn and Beethoven, followed by a less structured handful of songs with Canning.

Edwin Huizinga and Keith Hamm of Stereo Live Toronto. Photo by Jennifer Toole.

The music of Beethoven began the night in a small room on the second floor of the museum, which proved to be a wonderful acoustic environment for the string quartet. Expressive melodic lines, rich harmonies, and physical performances abounded from all four players as they navigated the twists and turns of various movements.

After an intermission, the quartet moved on to perform pieces written by Haydn. These were more frantic and cello heavy, notably relying on an almost call and response communication between the various instruments. The music was full of such energy and life as the performers nearly left their seats all together in the heat of heavy crescendoes.

Brendan Canning. Photo by Jules Schill.

After a short break, Brendan Canning sat down with an acoustic guitar to play with Hamm, now on the mandolin, and later Huizinga, again on violin. As is indicative of just how small the Toronto scene is, Canning explained that he had met Huizinga as they were next door neighbours and this had led to his involvement with Stereo Live.

Canning invited a friend of his to sing harmonies on “Never Go To The Races,” a gentle song from his solo record released in 2013, You Gots 2 Chill. It had a lilting, almost lullaby-like quality to it that was welcome on such a cold winter night. The set had a mostly improvisational nature, evident at times such as when Canning asked Huizinga and Hamm to play something in D major so that he could tune his guitar, and they broke out into a jig that had the audience stomping along. One of the highlights of the evening was an “experimental” piece the three collaborated on which featured heavy use of Canning’s various pedals. He mentioned after the performance that even he hadn’t been sure of what would happen musically.

The first Stereo Live Toronto concert definitely proved to be a resounding success. Musicians from the classical and indie rock worlds, which are often seen as completely different, converged to find common ground while showcasing their strengths as individual musicians and strong figures in their respective genres.

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Review – “Grand Canyon” – Sarah MacDougall

SarahMacDougall_GrandCanyon-AlbumCoverArtreviewed by Kirsty Chan

Sarah MacDougall is more than just a generic singer-songwriter and, in all its simplicity, her latest release gestures towards big ideas. Grand Canyon takes listeners on a journey across a range of landscapes as MacDougall draws on life experiences in her homeland of Sweden, and her adopted home in Canada.

The album begins in Sweden with the first single, “I Want To See The Light (Lost from our eyes)”. MacDougall pulls inspiration from a string of anti-immigrant shootings in 2010 in her hometown, Malmö. The song’s twisting melody and whisper-y vocals creates an uneasy, haunting atmosphere.

Grand Canyon pays homage to her hometown once again in “Malmö I Mitt Hjärta”. The song rises from stark beginnings into a swelling cinematic experience. The sweeping strings arrangement is courtesy of two of Canada’s finest: Jesse Zubot (Tanya Tagaq) and Matthew Rogers (The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer). The song weaves echoing vocals and textured instrumentals for a multi-dimensional, layered listen.

In “Sparrowhead” we see the setting shift across the sea to Canada. MacDougall references Vancouver and Winnipeg and closes out the song with repeating the word “Manitoba”. Beyond the emotional geography, MacDougall hits the right notes in other places. Title track “Grand Canyon” and “The Story of Pippi and Lionheart” showcase her ability to deliver on charming indie pop, while “Devil’s Gap” is a heady slow-mover.

Grand Canyon is a refreshing addition to Canada’s singer-songwriter genre, but it’s also so much more. The album is filled with Sarah MacDougall doing what she does best: taking indie-pop expectations and shooting them full of fresh turns and honest lyrics.

Top Tracks: “Malmö I Mitt Hjärta”, “Grand Canyon”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really good)

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Behind the Hoots: February

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Braids – photo by Landon Speers

“There Are Ways To Get What You Want” – Astral Swans (Lyrics by Matthew Swann)

Kill the weakness in your mind, son. Find someone who’ll rip their heart out to give to a cold asshole like you. To a cold asshole like me too who takes, and takes, and takes. 

Matthew Swann’s bedroom door was accidentally left open by an inch and as a result we hear the songs that make up All My Favorite Singers Are Willie Nelson. Or at least that’s what it sounds like. The crisis that we grapple with within the confines of our bedroom squeeze out from the space left by the door and sound exactly how they are meant to: bare, honest, uncertain, and complex.

Due to its length, “There Are Ways To Get What You Want” is barely an opening song. More so a brief preface that sets the album’s tone. Its graphic nature is just one example of the stark imagery that inhabits the record. As Swann sings, “…to give to a cold asshole like you,” the faint synth/guitar reverberation in the song’s background reaches its peak. The gentle, bass note heavy, guitar plucking suddenly feels hopeful and lighter. Kind of like when you realize you have found someone to save you.

- Laura Stanley 

“Old Magic” – Del Bel (Lyrics by Lisa Conway)

That old worm’s got a big, big mouth and I know he’d like to eat ya. We’ll dig you a hole in the family plot, I bet they’d all love to meet ya.


In an album full of enigmatic lyrics, Lisa Conway really grabs the listener’s attention when she goes literal. There’s a reason this lyrical couplet has been quoted in so many reviews—it’s downright scary. Several vague phrases come before this, like “How general, go gentle…” but this phrase stands out especially because the instruments drop away; it’s just Conway’s voice, and there’s nothing you can do to escape. As if the idea of being eaten by a worm (that wants to eat you, no doubt) isn’t creepy enough, Conway goes all in on the death imagery and will probably make you check under the bed before you go to sleep.

-Michael Thomas

“Miniskirt” – Braids (Lyrics by Raphaelle Standell-Preston)

It’s like I’m wearing red and if I am, you feel you’ve the right to touch me. Cause I asked for it. In my little mini skirt, think you can have it? My little mini skirt, it’s mine, all mine.


It was hard to pick just one passage to highlight from “Miniskirt.” Despite her reputation as a keen musical diarist, Raphaelle Standelle-Preston’s words have never felt this deeply, bravely personal. Her lyrics take dead aim at the double-standards of body image and slut-shaming, sexual objectification, manipulation, “man-hating,” and the violences both physical and emotional that have been and continue to be perpetrated against women and families. These are things that are impossible to reduce to a hashtag or a trite euphemism. As the song builds to its chorus, the chains and weights of Standelle-Preston’s frustrations seem superheated, melted, reforged into something glowing with power.

- Chris Matei

“Universe” – Faith Healer (Lyrics by Jessica Jalbert)

Oh the universe takes you by the nape of your neck and keeps you hanging on by a thread and then whatever until your dead.


Full disclosure, I’m friends with Faith Healer.

With the driving, Velvet Underground-esque pulse & monotone delivery of Faith Healer’s “Universe”, it’s easy to accidentally glaze over the specifics of the lyrics. It’s the kind of song that can transport you, maybe to a long forgotten road trip, and you’re just watching the scenery melt away out the window, trees keeping time, traffic wizzing by, lakes evaporating. And all of a sudden Jessica Jalberts chorus hits you: “oh the universe takes you by the nape of your neck and keeps you hanging on by a thread and then whatever until your dead”.

And you might think, damn, she’s right. Truthful nihilism. Like Jalbert says, “the earth moves never ending”: we end, we hang on some thread, scrambling til we’re dead. Watching this world pass us by, with a fine view from our eyes. But what are we going to do in the meantime?

-Doug Hoyer

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Review – “Green Tape” – Terrorista

reviewed by Elysse Cloma

Green Tape Album Artwork

Green Tape Album Artwork

Toronto “two-PEACE post-post-post-punk band” Terrorista just released Green Tape. It’s the penultimate release in a series of four cassettes following Pink Tape and Purple Tape, and the final cassette Blue Tape comes out in March. Terrorista’s music is some no-frills grunge-rock that’s loud and fast.

Judging by the Terrorista’s accompanying visuals, they’re a band that’s found a balance between being aloof and present. Distant, but not uninvolved, they give the camera lens straight-on deadpan stares in their Bandcamp profile photo, posing behind a houseplant and a ukulele. Their music video for “Dirty Smile”, directed by Emma Arkell and Genevieve Latour depicts the band in an oversaturated CMYK dreamland with busy animation. Terrorista’s jokester attitude and super cool visuals are demure, attractive and inviting, leaving us wanting in on their post-post-post-punk joke.

While Terrorista’s presentation might be encoded with messages only legible to hipsters, the tracks on Green Tape are tangible and catchy. They’re a couple of upbeat, head bopping tunes that are loyal to the style of grunge and garage rock, with demanding electric guitar and predictable drumbeats. The song “Sean Drums” quickly finds a comfortable groove, with call-and-response vocals on the chorus that are used in good taste. Though there’s not a lot of dimension to the song, it’s nice to hear music that, unlike the slew towards psychedelia in indie music lately, does’t have a lot of reverb. The simplicity of Terrorista’s music gives us a raw taste of their musicianship and keeps things fresh! 

Top Tracks: “Sean Drums”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Shit Sucks” – B.A. Johnston

shit sucksreviewed by Michael Thomas

As put more eloquently previously, B.A. Johnston is a Canadian icon. His vast discography attests to the Canada we all know and can relate to, but never hear about in song form. Sure, we all know about heartaches and devastating breakups, but we also know the perks of being a couch potato, the evils of cats, where all the jobs are and the merits of having an entire pizza to oneself.

Shit Sucks is B.A. Johnston as he was and as he always will be, and really, he doesn’t need to change up his formula because the songs speak for themselves. Quick guitar strummers, 80s-esque backing tracks, you’ll hear plenty of ‘em here. This time around he teamed up with Mike O’Neill of the Inbreds and former co-conspirator Laura Peek for a new batch of 19 songs.

Johnston’s genius is that while many of his songs are hilarious (songs like “What a Wonderfully Mediocre Day” and “Drinking On My Mom’s Dime” are anthems in and of themselves) he also balances that with a few songs with sweet sentiments attached. “I Want to Love You But I am Too Dumb” is a song about just that, made all the more sweet by the little synth notes and a slightly softer delivery.

Johnston is at his bounciest with songs like “Couch Potato Alright,” a testament to laziness. Lyrics like “Not gonna shovel the driveway, so much snow, God must have wanted it that way” are almost the exact thoughts we’ve had at one point or another. “Gonna End Up Working in Fort McMurray” is a song about the city where the money is, and all the lifestyle adjustments that would entail.

There’s also plenty of good laments; “I Don’t Wanna Go to No Frills” details the pains of the cheap grocery store, from the early Lord of the Flies simile to the asshole who abuses the express line. “The Commute” musically captures the twilight drive on the highway that slowly drives you crazy. “The Ballad of Wheels” is a sad, banjo-tinged ode to Degrassi kid Neil Hope.

There’s also a couple of songs on getting older; “I Remember Skinny Jeans the Last Time Around,” in all its synthy glory, looks with scorn on the younger generation. Perhaps no phrase is more biting than “I do not give a shit about the shit that you give a shit about.” And “Old and Lame” looks fondly back on the stupid shit we did as teenagers.

Shit Sucks may be a bleaker summation of life than Johnston’s previous albums have suggested but it’s no less poignant. B.A. will continue to remain in our hearts forever.

Top Tracks: “Gonna End Up Working in Fort McMurray”; “I Want to Love You But I am Too Stupid; “Shitty Cat”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) +*swoop*

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Review – “The Forgettable Truth” – Michael Feuerstack

reviewed by Laura Stanley a0534929958_10

Michael Feuerstack is a veteran storyteller. His narratives roam between weary themes of love and regret and yet Feuerstack, whether under the name Snailhouse or otherwise, makes each record he creates sound refreshed and different. His lyrics are witty and jarring and calming; somehow all at the same time.

For the majority of The Forgettable Truth, the songs are built on a subtle and smooth instrumentation that nestles amongst the complexities of Feuerstack’s lyrics. Joined by Pietro Amato, Peter Xirogiannis, Mike Belyea, Little Scream, Nick Cobham and Sebastian Chow, the band creates a sort of woven covering that warms the album. The steady pace of “Clackity Clack” and the closer “Monrovia,” highlighted by some beautiful string work by Chow, are prime examples of how Feuerstack matches the intricacies of his lyrics with complex but muted musical additions. 

Where the album strays from the calmer demeanour of these mentioned track, The Forgettable Truth is at its most exciting. “The Devil,” a surprising fast-paced number, and the playful attitude of “Lamplight” are, though in different ways, equally energetic.

In December, Feuerstack’s “Blue Light II” was featured on the Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada VI compilation. As a bare and intimate offering, “Blue Light II” captures, suitably, the winter blues. “Blue Light” as featured on The Forgettable Truth is outwardly much different but grapples with the same emotions and ideas as found in “Blue Light II.” With a rather upbeat clean electric guitar and drums combo, “Blue Light,” like II, says that the blue light lets you take it slow. The real trouble is finding your own blue light. 

It took me numerous replays of the opener “Receiver” before I could get to the rest of The Forgettable Truth. Early in the song Feuerstack sings, “Thanks to you, I haven’t been the same since you made me want to die. Die on the crutches of time.” Though he’s later joined by Little Scream for an unsurprisingly wonderful combination, it’s with this line and its ironically poppy delivery that you are so warmly welcomed into The Forgettable Truth. Sure, it’s a dark line but damn is it catchy.

Long after The Forgettable Truth finishes playing, Michael Feuerstack’s music will linger. Mark it down as another strong volume in Feuerstack’s mighty collection.

Top Tracks: “Receiver,” “Blue Light” 

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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