Review – “The Ropes” – Good for Grapes

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis12096036_860050334064127_9105744516908654194_n

Two years and over one hundred thousand dollars can do great things for a band, as Good for Grapes has learned since their debut. The Ropes, their follow up to 2013’s Man on the Page, is a punchy, raucous and deeply satisfying successor to their folk-fuelled entrance.

The extra cash, new members and a chance to work with producer Howard Redekopp (the New Pornographers, Tegan and Sara, 54-40, Mother Mother) all led to a few creative flourishes—channeling a bit more classic rock and an unabashed country flair on certain notes. But their folk roots—which helped them skyrocket to the top of a number of band competitions and garnered them the Peak Performance Project and winnings—are happily still front and centre.

The measured build of “Gethsemane Blues” and its pub-party chorus showcase how effusive that new fusion can be. It’s a seven-minute wunderkind of a song that marches, explodes and then flips itself into totally different genres as it riffs on the guitar and plucks out a country twang.

There are hints of Simon & Garfunkel, nods to Oasis’ less scandalous years and even a rum-running finale on “Visions.” Meanwhile, songs like “Time and Time Again” lay the emphasis on lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Daniel McBurnie’s voice as he eases up on some of their trademark folk-stomp to churn out a heart-broken ballad or delve into adventure turned introspection.

In fact, aside from their refreshingly modern take on some classic coastal folk, it’s the mid-song turn that emerges as a staple of The Ropes. McBurnie credits the infusion of sounds to the sextet’s assorted tastes, but the natural flexibility on show makes for another draw as the album dips and swoops through that range smoother than most and with a welcome break from rote.

But lest some old fans be worried, that folk-stomp is still the main allure, and the sense that there’s a good party up ahead never falters. The band’s habit of punching upwards by joining in for the chorus continues bring in that extra kick—giving each song its rousing moment and occasionally reaching nearly anthemic proportions. Still, the added variety, the surprising shifts and an equal ability to step back make their own rewards—and make for an equally sweet return on the rewards the band has already reaped.

Top Tracks: “Gestsemane Blues”; “Nightmares”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*

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Premiere: Jennifer Budd – “The Colonel”


As Jennifer Budd approaches the Nov. 13 release of her debut LP Lip Service, she’s currently tiding us over with a 135-second song that will give you a lot to think about.

As Budd describes “The Colonel”:

My focus for “The Colonel” was merely based on story. You can read the same story a million times and derive a different antidote each read. I wanted listeners to try to piece together the four-character (Winston, Sarah, the Colonel, and the narrator) story from all angles, perspectives, and motives, and try to approach each character with understanding.

The song’s forward momentum never stops; a brilliant bass riff keeps the song kinetic, and as Budd moves into the chorus, some proud horns come into the mix, and later some frantic strings. Budd packs a lot of story into this short song, and it encourages multiple listenings to fully absorb the entire tale. Grayowl Point is happy to premiere this neo-soul jigsaw puzzle; check it out below.

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Review – “In Bloom” – Balacade

a3026669422_16reviewed by Laura Stanley

Andrew Reynolds (Balacade) is a daydreamer. He dreams of going back in time. He dreams of the future. He dreams of fame. He dreams of love. In Bloom is a vignette of all of these dreams, hazy around its edges due to Reynolds’ hoarse voice but its centre, the lyrics and pop style, is crystal clear. The record is not “another broken teenage dream” as Reynolds sings in “Familiar Scenes” but a complete vision.

Sonically, Balacade is hard to pin down. At times In Bloom sounds like something from a 90s alt-rock band (even its title seems to be a nod to the Nirvana song), at others, a 70s folk-rock band. While at other times it is very much a product of today, marked by the industrious DIY habits of contemporary (really) independent musicians and the anxieties that plague millennials. And in some songs all three sounds work together for particularly blissful moments.

Opener “Marquee Moon” is exactly one of these amalgamating moments. At its beginning, “Marquee Moon” transfixes with its simple and steady pop rhythm that caters to Reynolds 20-something anxieties – “I’ve only got 12 more payments before I’ve got hundreds more,” he sings. As the song progresses, Reynolds gracefully enters new heights with a harmonica melody reminiscent of decades past.

Diving in further, the playful balance Balacade strikes between past and present becomes more clear as he jumps decades under his steady pop makeup. In the opening lyric from the standout and most bubbly “Stripmall in the Sun,” Reynolds admits, “I was meant to be lost in the 70’s living in Topanga Canyon with you.” Echoing his yearning to go to the musician and hippie-haven, in “Roseville” Reynolds sings of growing up in the Michigan town in 1973. In “Movie Script Ending” (a nice reference to Death Cab For Cutie), a now 90s-era Reynolds is listening to his walkman and “thinking of a sunset sound.”

Fittingly, In Bloom ends with “A Dream.” Strung together by a contrastingly lighthearted keyboard melody, Reynolds confesses to being sometimes lost in his self-made darkness and fears his love is not real but his premonitions of a future alone seem to be for nothing because “just like that it was all a dream.”

“Will they play my record? Will I be a star?” asks Reynolds in the final line of “Strangers.” In Bloom might just be the ticket.

Top Tracks: “Marquee Moon” ; “Stripmall in the Sun”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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One-on-One with Wordburglar

Wordburglar Photo: Michael Thomas

Photo: Michael Thomas

by Michael Thomas

“Well, a million years ago I was left on a doorstep next to a boombox…” Wordburglar (Sean Jordan) is jokingly telling his “origin story,” but it may as well be his actual story. He’s liked rap as long as he could remember, and even the way he speaks is lyrical, as though he could start rhyming at any second. He recalls making his first “demo tape” in grade five with the aid of two tape decks and a friend.

“We played a beat on another tape deck and then we recorded our voices on this other tape deck and made the worst demo of all time,” he says, then laughs. “We rapped about pterodactyls.”

He may not be rapping about pterodactyls on his latest album, Rapplicable Skills, but his rhymes are equally earnest, with references to comic books, sports legends, Ontario politicians and a whole lot more.

“To me, it’s very much a tribute to my love of the golden era of 90s hip-hop,” he says. “I wanted it to be a classic rap album — some banging beat, some nice 4/4s, some crazy drums, samples, DJing, classic rap styles and throwing in some fun concepts. I want it to be a fun listen all the way through.”

As per always, this is an effort helped by Toronto’s indie hip-hop community; Beatmason produced the beats for a majority of the album, and rappers like More or Les and Ghettosocks (among many others) guest on some of the tracks. Though Jordan is now permanently a Toronto resident, he moved back and forth between Ontario’s capital and his childhood home of Halifax.

There’s a clear difference between the two scenes. Halifax has always been known for its tight-knit music scene, and hip-hop artists are a part of it too.

“The punk and rock scenes really embraced the hip-hop scene and there was a lot of community between them. [When] I was starting out doing gigs there, I’d be playing with punk bands and rock bands and doing everything,” he says. “Halifax is kind of on the edge of Canada, so we’re left alone to develop our own style. The Toronto scene is just so huge. It’s like anything else in this city, it’s amazing, but every neighbourhood, every pocket, every corner has its own little scene, artists.”

No song on Rapplicable Skills is more of an indication of Toronto’s music scene than “Warp Formula,” featuring Chokeules, Mega Ran, More or Les, Savilion, Sy-Fi, Timbuktu and Ultra Magnus.

“To me, this song was like the bounty hunter, intergalactic, crazy anthem. I contacted all the MCs I knew who I felt could get on board with a concept like this. I handpicked everyone on that track and they all delivered,” Jordan says of the impressive song. “I imagine us all in space on some crazy Guardians of the Galaxy-type expedition.”

Though the song is decidedly sci-fi in construction, the album also draws on personal stories. “Bill Mosienko (21 Seconds)” is not only about the hockey legend, but the reverence Jordan’s father had for him. “Channel Halifax” gives enough shout-outs to make a Haligonian break out into a big grin.

Songs like “The Other Shop” are a combination of Jordan’s imagination and places he visited as a child.

“The Other Shop is a combination of about four or five shops that I’ve been to, some in Halifax, some in Toronto,” he says. One line of the song “We went in because we liked arcade games, but they didn’t seem to like kids our age range” was based on a store in Halifax.

How Jordan arrives at these songs varies. Sometimes he’ll be inspired by something—he mentioned hearing Metric’s new album and feeling like he needed to write—and bank it for later. But with songs like “Word Currency,” which is full of “punchlines,” each line flows into one another.

“I go through a lot of editing, I do a lot of rewrites,” he says. “Every song is a weird jigsaw puzzle that I’m trying to make fit perfectly.”

Even his album titles can strike him at any time. He says he already has an idea of what his next album could be called though it’s some time away. As for how he arrived at Rapplicable Skills, it came to him while he was writing some lyrics:

“I was like “That embodies what this record is about.” ‘Cause that’s what it takes. That’s what I’ve got. What else am I going to do with those skills?”

He has a quick response to what some “rapplicable skills” are:

“It’s rhyming, it’s understanding beats, it’s rhythm, it’s timing, it’s being able to just rap in different environments, gigging, staying at it. Developing tenacity, I’m in my 30s now and I’ve been writing rhymes since I was 12 or 13. I’m always learning. I’m always trying to get better. Those are the skills I’m trying to hone.”

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Review – “Gold Shirt” – Harley Alexander & the Universal Lovers

gold shirtreviewed by Michael Thomas

Love is the most thoroughly overused topic in music, but few evoke the feeling of love so genuinely as Harley Alexander & the Universal Lovers. The love this band emits is unconditional and all enveloping—it’s more than just a warm hug, it’s a full, minutes-long embrace.

It’s hard not to think about love throughout Gold Shirt, given that the opening song is called “Lookin For Love” and close “The Finest Scent” begins with the lyrics “Love’s so much better when you fall in love.” Add to the fact that Harley Alexander now calls his backing band the Universal Lovers and well, I’ve probably written the word “love” more in this review than all my other reviews combined.

Love can get stale, of course, and Alexander keeps the feeling alive with an ever-shifting sound, often embracing psychedelic pop (it’s no wonder he’s good friends with the guys from Walrus) but venturing well into funk and even a little bossa nova. Alexander also has a hell of a vocal range, effortlessly moving to a falsetto if need be — he shows if off early with the bass-grooving, leisurely paced “Lookin for Love.”

The slower, more sentimental side of love is in “Cosmic Latte” and the title track; the latter is the perfect Sunday-morning relaxation song that appropriately ends with a fade. “Beautiful Brian” is one of the sunniest but also biggest-sounding songs on the album, where Alexander’s vocals are first mixed in alongside the instruments and later separated as he increases the volume as the arrangement gets bigger.

The album is at its best when it suddenly enters strange realms. “Baby Blue” is downright hilarious when the smooth song suddenly brings in a demonic-sounding voice that should be smooth-talking a girl but instead stumbles over his words. “Trust” is the aforementioned foray into bossa nova, and the calm, summery chord strumming makes the lyrics that much better: “What do you want from me baby? I ain’t gonna hurt you/Okay I might hurt you but you ain’t the only one with a trust problem honey.” Naturally, the song gets a lot louder after that.

But all of those songs, while fantastic, can compare to the sheer joy of “Runnin Thangz” (ft. Charlotte Day Wilson and Brian Askew), which goes full-on funk and is so damn catchy you might end up not hearing the rest of the album as you keep it on repeat.

If you haven’t found love yet, stop your search. Harley Alexander has more than enough to go around.

Top Tracks: “Runnin Thangz”; “Trust”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Behind the Hoots: September


For Esmé

“Make A Sound” – For Esmé (Lyrics by Martha Meredith)

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound?
and if I’m wrapped up in something good but I forget to throw the proof down..
does it count? does it count? does it count?

In the opening lines of “Make A Sound”, Martha Meredith confronts how our society now functions around social media. We have a tendency now to document everything, to a point where we feel anxious if we don’t. This anxiety is felt by Meredith’s continuous repetition of “does it count?” It’s border-line confrontational making us ask ourselves if the moment itself is sufficient enough.  The song goes on to question whether what we’re posting is even a genuine depiction of real life.

– Tiana Feng

“You Can Dance in Alberta!” – Brock Tyler (Lyrics by Brock Tyler)

But now I wonder, have we lost our touch?
I’ve travelled around here and I don’t see us dance as much
Either the rose is wild, or it’s just a rose
So pick it up off the ground and put it in your hair
Grease up the floor and get ready to go

Brock Tyler is one of my favourite Canadian songwriters. His astute, and often light-hearted, songwriting tugs at heartstrings and has become a mainstay on my iPod. Part of the All-Albertan Song Contest (Tyler unfortunately came in second but he’s #1 in our hearts), Tyler’s latest song “You Can Dance in Alberta!” is his funniest to date! Employing a notably lower register, Tyler dances across his beautiful province, spreading love, and leaving behind all the surrounding negative energy. In the verse above, Tyler questions what’s happened to the province and encourages its people to have fun again all while cleverly making reference to Alberta’s Wildrose Party. With so many great provincial references, this one will make Albertans and Cancon lovers alike get up and dance.

– Laura Stanley 

“Fuck the Government, I Love You” – Ariel Sharratt & Mathias Kom (Lyrics by Mathias Kom)

Pass the wine, fuck the government, I love you, three statements overheard at once in the crowded room. But I could not be sure which one had come from you, so I passed you the wine and said “Yes, fuck the government, I love you too.”

Ostensibly the story of how the Burning Hell’s Mathias Kom and Ariel Sharratt met, Kom as usual writes in a completely self-effacing way, highlighting not only the awkwardness of the party at which he met Sharratt, but also his own awkwardness. No ordinary person would write about their dream of Jean Baudrillard rapping with Public Enemy, but he does. The quoted lines are every person’s worst nightmare: you’re at a loud party full of people you don’t know, but you’ve managed to hit it off with one person. How do you respond to hearing three different things? Some would make a guess and respond to one, but instead, they choose to hedge their bets and respond to all three. This is relateable human awkwardness at its finest.

Michael Thomas

“Shiny Pretty Things” – David Newberry (Lyrics by David Newberry)

I am getting pretty tired of the radio. 
They’re just reporting on all our shiny dreams.
Something has gone wrong, come out the front door of a sideshow. 
We’ve learned to love such wicked, wicked things.

“Shiny Pretty Things” is about the loss of innocence, and is probably well summed up by these four lines.

The “radio” represents popular media, which focus on the things that we are irresistibly drawn to – the insubstantial, the superficially attractive, the shallow, the fleeting, the dazzling. In other words, our “shiny dreams”.

But something has gone wrong. What is it? The mentioning of “the front door of sideshow” suggests something that was once a minor distraction, something of secondary importance, has now taken centre stage. Newberry probably intends this as a reference to many things, but elsewhere in the song he refers specifically to gun culture and gun violence (e.g. “place an armed guard at the library”). Gun violence has always been around but it used to be in the background of our consciousness. It was rarely top news or front-and-centre in the media. Now it is everywhere. The nightly news is riddled with it. It floods our awareness with its presence on the internet, on TV, in our magazines. The fictional world has undergone a similar transition. Yes, there have always been images of guns and killings in movies, for example, but nowhere near the degree to which they are prevalent today.

It’s an obsession with us. As much as we are appalled by the violence, we are drawn to it on a very basic and depraved level. It’s a love/hate relationship. We have “learned to love such wicked, wicked things”.

It is tragic and sad because, after all, we “used to be such pretty tiny things”.

– Mark Anthony Brennan

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Review – “The West Coast” – Towers and Trees

'reviewed by Chris Matei

A question for you, dear reader: what is the “west coast sound?” Is it the sound of acoustic guitars gathered around a beach bonfire? The sound of a high-def camera zooming over a lush Pacific treescape, IMAX-style? The immensely varied, college-tested alternative-pop stylings that sit on spectra from baroque to intellectual to brash to experimental?

Towers and Trees certainly have a geographic claim to being standard-bearers for the archetype. The band hails from Victoria, BC, and their latest record, the almost redundantly titled The West Coast, was produced in the misty island nook of Nanoose Bay by local Alex Aligizakis, whose work with bands like We Hunt Buffalo and Bend Sinister has found much critical acclaim in the province’s music scene.

And to be sure, West Coast is a fantastic-sounding record. There’s a cinematic sense of scope and scale to much of the album, a bright and clear energy that comes through in the drawling country-rock melodies, rich acoustic guitars, smooth vocals and wide open rock drum sounds, the compelling use of arpeggios and chord shifts to create motion, and the way each song’s chorus seems to arrive with the invigorating swell and impact of a crashing whitecap. There are stylistic nods to everything from Big Wreck to Dire Straits to John Butler Trio to John Mayer to Jack Johnson, especially in the diverse guitar arrangements. Harmonies on songs like “West Coast Man” and “We’re Not Islands” shimmer and intertwine with genuine intimacy.

That being said, what The West Coast does so well in terms of its sonic construction, it undoes, to a certain extent, with its approach to theme and feel. There are not one but two songs that remind us exactly where we’re supposed to be on this record – the aforementioned “West Coast Man” and  “West Coast / Tide II.” Frontman Adrian Chalifour has constructed such a panoply of metaphors about waves and mountains, crossings and islands, tides and so on, that the record soon feels as though it leans too hard on a particular free-spirited, rockin’ yet wholesome set of lyrical and musical tropes that it believes ought to define “coastalness.” Songs that initially inspire awe by soaring into huge choruses and whoa-ing uplifts on the album’s first few tracks become predictable by mid-record, only to trade off for a few earnest meet-cute ballads with little in the way of substance.

There are songs that make for notable exceptions to this observation: they often correlate with the moments that Chalifour and his band decide to strip their style down and introduce subtle organic elements to the front of the mix. “Bad Heart” gets hugely appealing mileage from a dark, lovely, smokey groove, and album closer “Hearts on Fire” lets him and vocalist Andrea Lubberts trade genuinely moving lines over a beautiful duet of piano and cello. For such a sonically appealing record that positively drips with production values and careful attention to detail, The West Coast succeeds only when it lets listeners travel further into the deep woods than the postcard-perfect version of its aesthetic might suggest.

Top Tracks: “Hearts on Fire,” “Bad Heart,” “FREE”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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