Why Basia Bulat Should Win The Polaris Prize

Photo by Michael Vincent Tan

Photo by Michael Vincent Tan

by Chris Wheeler 

On the evening of the 21st of September, 2013, following an in-store performance at the smaller of Rough Trade’s two London locations, I found myself sitting on the stoop of a stereotypically British townhouse with my phone in hand, recording an interview with a Canadian musician who, at the end of a very long promotional tour for a new album and with friends waiting at a bar nearby, was kind enough to make time to speak with me.

The interview was with one Basia Bulat. The album, now familiar but which would not see release in Canada until over a week later on the 30th of September, was Tall Tall Shadow. Even at the time, even with only a handful of singles and promotional performances to go by and the freshly purchased but still unconsumed album in a bag at my feet, I understood that this album held unusual importance.

A year on, the excitement is still alive and well and has bred a new kind of anticipation. After being shortlisted for the 2014 Juno Award for Adult Alternative Album of the Year, Tall Tall Shadow has been shortlisted for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize. The third of Basia’s albums to make the Polaris long list and second to make the short list, Tall Tall Shadow represents Basia’s best chance at securing the top prize and $30,000. Not because it is her best album to date (it is) or because Basia’s performances and personality are so instantly enchanting (they are). No, Tall Tall Shadow will succeed where her other two albums have not because it soars over the competition.

Most of this year’s crop of albums strike me as deeply personal and reflective endeavours. Apart from Arcade Fire’s grandiose yet intentionally ambiguous Reflektor and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s sorrowed (almost) otherworldly din, the shortlisted albums all feel like emotive pen-to-paper impartances, almost without pretence (Drake’s excellent Nothing Was The Same being the exeption). The brightest, despite the inference in the title of the album, and most important is Bulat’s Tall Tall Shadow.

For an album that exists most obviously as a meditation on love, Tall Tall Shadow has remarkable depth and actually confounds that definition. On “Promise Not To Think About Love” Basia sings “And I’ve seen the final hour/ When I tell you I don’t think about love/ I don’t think about it/ And I won’t sing about it now/” Backed by a simple hand clap rhythm throughout, the song lifts and feels almost joyful, as if the darkest is behind. This sentiment of renewal and a search for meaning beyond the confines of love or a relationship is the arc that gives shape to the album.

“All I own/ I don’t want/ can’t be sold” from “Five, Four” and sung over a simple hand picked melody on the guitar that crescendos slightly at the line’s conclusion, reminds us the tangible is always less important than the intangible, that our happiness must be internal and not be misplaced in objects.

Tall Tall Shadow’s strength is that it is incredibly intimate without being overly gloomy. The album is warm even at its bleakest lyrical moments because they double as extremely valuable and indelible lessons that Basia imprints on our own consciousness. Her painfully wrought experiences are internalized as things we would do well to remember when we find ourselves overwhelmed by darkness. The detailing and emotion of her carefully chosen and exquisitely played instrumental arrangements compliment and come to represent both the pain and the spark of joy that immediately follows.

It is not with love that we find our place in our shadowy world. By knowing pain and learning to know ourselves we find true meaning. There is no other, ethereal or otherwise, there is only our own shadow to that we need to learn to live with and navigate around. Translating your own hardships into any medium can be an impossible task, but delivering them with poise and providing any modicum of relief to your audience is a gift. Tall Tall Shadow, instead of delving in them, shines a light so we can confront our own.

Posted in Grayowl Rants & Raves | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review – “Caustic” – Roberta Bondar

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

Roberta Bondar, Bruised Tongue

Roberta Bondar are not an astronaut. They’re a band. A sick and twisted band.

Alright, maybe not sick — unless they’ve caught the current bout of flu — but twisted, sure. The music on their most recent release, Caustic, is a century-old nightmare, crawling to the surface through rusted over manholes. The sounds featured on the record stir lo-fi sentiments, calling out to dirty little holes in the wall, holes in the floor, holes in your memory from that long night out.

There are guitars, there are drums, there are echoing vocals. Sure, you’ve heard it all before. But why do you buy your favourite flavour of ice cream on a hot summer’s day? Come on, treat yourself to some fuzzy, goth-tinged sweetness.

The tracks come hard and quick on this full length that runs just over half an hour. Highlights of heavy metal riffs combined with the soft, pleasing tones of Lidijia Rozitis’ lead vocals cascade throughout the music with devious intent, seducing the public ear. “Palm Bay” has the feel of a Sonic Youth liquor reference throughout — lots of noise all over, coated in hooky melodic work and heartbeat drumming. “Caustic” is a title track seance, plain and simple. The song is the most reserved on the record at times, but only to allow the danger to seep into your bones and then take you for a ride. The closer, “Wet Eyes,” is a seriously sinister finale, and the tape is sure to burn itself up after its conclusion.

The dark fever of Caustic is a lot of fun. All things are placed proportionately, like a witch’s brew, making for pleasurable listening. Why not sling it on at your halloween bash or your next ritual sacrifice? Aleister Crowley would be making these guys his ringtone if the Dark One were still with us.

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Top Tracks: “Palm Bay” , “Caustic”

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Tanya Tagaq Should Win The Polaris Music Prize

MW118 Tanya top shot

Photo by Ivan Otis

“It seems that everybody wants to conform, to follow the same rhythms, four bars, and a chorus. I find that boring.” – Tanya Tagaq in Exclaim

“[...] I know music is changing. Inuit music is changing. And there’s no stopping it.” – Tanya Tagaq in an interview with Jeffrey Van Den Scott

by Laura Stanley

Creatively, Tanya Tagaq is on a different level from her fellow Polaris Music Prize short listers. Tagaq purposely takes a stand against the mainstream and “independent” Canadian music soundscapes (are they the same?) and questions the colonial norms of what music should sound like. She wakes us from the artistic slumber that too many acts in this country have put us in. Animisim takes great care in resisting becoming a product of settler colonialism and subsequently the record’s revolutionary creative spirit stands alone amongst this year’s Polaris contenders.

The music from the Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Manitoba-based artist is richly of the body. Combining improvised inuit throat singing with electronic and classic elements, Tagaq showcases the strengths of the human body. The voice of the “Inuk punk” is guttural, visceral, rich, frantic, and at times, down right frightening. By weaving these sonic elements together, Tagaq creates an emotional experience that touches deep within.

The two longest songs from the record, “Tulugak” and “Damp Animal Spirits,” are the strongest and most expansive examples of this emotional experience. In both, the intensity is unmatched with varying types of guttural sounds loudly voiced but also whispered, threading between turbulent drums, weeping strings, and the occasional sounds of numerous brass instruments. 

To listen to Animisim is to challenge yourself yet to describe it as “experimental” feels out of place. This record and Tagaq’s art goes beyond tapping into an alternative sound structure and becomes a powerful cultural tool.       

Animisim‘s artistic value and politically poignancy can only be matched by last year’s nominees, A Tribe Called Red. Similar to ATCR, Tagaq honours a rich traditional practice of indigenous peoples while adapting the cultural practice to the present day. Traditionally, Inuit throat singing is performed by two women in the style of a contest. While singing, the women stand face-to-face and grip each other’s arms while trying to outlast one another. Sometimes accompanied by dancing and occasionally ending with fits of laughter, (fans of Hey Rosetta! will be familiar with this as it is found at the end of “Parson Brown (Upirngaangutuq Iqalunni)”) throat singing is connected to Inuit history and plays an important role within Inuit communities.

By performing as a solo act, Tagaq breaks from the singing’s traditional model and subsequently becomes one of a few who bridge the gap between traditional inuit throat singing and more contemporary styles of music. Tagaq’s contemporary throat singing is an innovative cultural undertaking that highlights the strength, as academic Kerry L. Potts and others of have argued, that music can have as “an anti-colonial tool for Aboriginal people.” The changes to this traditional cultural expression as found in Animisim provides a meaningful example of the adaptation of traditional practices to a contemporary need for change.

From a political, and in turn cultural, perspective, Animisim comes at a time of struggles with Arctic sovereignty, climate change, and the #Sealfie – a social media movement sparked by Ellen DeGeneres donating some of the money made from her Oscar selfie to the outspoken critic of Canada’s seal hunt, the Human Society of the United States. Tagaq’s choice to tackle many of these issues within her record situates it at the centre of this difficult climate for many indigenous people of the North and therefore charges it with political importance.

With a quick look at the album’s song titles like “Caribou,” “Rabbit,” “Howl,” “Fracking” and of course the album title itself, Animisim is of the earth. Reflecting these earthly creations, “Caribou” captures both the majesty and the strength of the animal’s spirit while “Howl” is a quiet and eerie number that joins the howling wolves with an array of strings for a very natural effect.    

Continuing this reflection, “Fracking” beings with a solo haunting wail until a violin jumps in to propel the anguish even further. Ending with the sounds of gasping and ultimately the quiet sounds of shuddering, “Fracking” is a vivid representation of environmental degradation caused by the fracking process.

Tanya Tagaq’s Animisim represents the future of music in the country. For the Polaris Music Prize to honour this record would symbolize not only the value of cross-cultural sharing in Canada but the vitality of alternative artistic expressions in the nation and hope for a future of Canadian music that is rooted in creativity and distinctiveness. After all, creativity is what the Polaris Prize is all about, right?

Posted in Grayowl Rants & Raves | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review – “Problems” – Motherhood

reviewed by Anna Algera3634608795_2

An experimental take on blues rock makes an intriguing and enjoyable listen from Fredericton band, Motherhood. The group has released a new EP entitled Problems, recorded at The Quarantine in Port Greville, Nova Scotia with Construction and Destruction.

The EP opens with a fun, rollicking number aptly titled “Introduction,” bringing the unique voice of Penelope Stevens into focus as she leads a call and response with one of her bandmates. The song appears to end rather abruptly but as the second track begins the listener finds that a smooth transition has been created.

Energy is high in the opening of “Dosey Doe” but begins to melt into adopting a dirge-like tempo halfway through. This song involves an interesting level of experimentation which is hard to follow at times but causes the listener to question the regular structure of the rock song. Problems really blossoms during the following track, “Dosey Dos,” featuring evocative piano lines, and simple but effective bass and drums. The two lead singers’ voices blend together in a beautiful and natural way.

“Caddy Whack Pt. I” begins with a wonderfully bluesy guitar riff, leading into a jerky jam of a song that ends in a odd, somewhat stunted way. However, the intro of “Caddy Whack Pt. II (Give a Dog a Bone)” feeds off of this curt ending, the song rumbling on with a powerful baseline paired with complementary guitar work. “Caddy Whack Pt. II (Give a Dog a Bone)” is perhaps the best song on the EP due to the equally strong vocals and instrumentation, Problems ends on a high note.

Problems is somewhat of an idiosyncratic group of songs, but one that is able to eventually finds its way to the listener’s heart. Incorporating elements of old time blues rock with folk spirit, Motherhood create an eyeopening listening experience that is sure to keep listeners engaged and questioning due to the band’s original style.

Problems is available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.

Top Tracks: “Caddy Whack Pt. II (Give a Dog a Bone),” “Dosey Dos”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review – “The Seat” – Duncan Hood

reviewed by Elysse Cloma923517_1569187033306829_1352043389_n

I always wonder what I am going to hear when I see the word “alternative” in front of any genre that isn’t rock. Montreal-based Duncan Hood is alternative-soul “with bits of R&B and folk”. The project is composed of members of Montreal’s Snooker Emporium (who opened for The Wooden Sky at POP Montreal), and Toronto’s Little Junior (formerly Dangerband). Duncan Hood’s influences range from “D’Angelo to Bonobo to James Blake”.

Each track on Duncan Hood’s recently released EP The Seat is a piece of the alternative-soul puzzle; when put together, the songs showcase a range of Duncan Hood’s style. The Seat is an easy listen that speaks for itself: you either put it down, or you want more.

Without vocals, the EP is a stripped down, lo-fi version of popular R&B songs. There are jazz guitar riffs, soulful chords, and unfaltering R&B beats. The most significant characteristic of Duncan Hood’s sound, however, is his voice. It’s gentle, wispy, and soulful. He adopts a soft folk-style of singing which glides gracefully over the tracks and makes for an intimate listening experience.

Every song on The Seat has a different feel. Title track “The Seat” has sensual guitar riffs, and the outro reminds me of D’Angelo songs like “One Mo’gin”. The second track, “Got Me So” is sweet and relatable. It’s about being at someone’s beck and call and not knowing what’s coming next. Also, the hook is groovy. “Got Me So” reminds me of the songs on Phoenix’s Alphabetical. The third track, “You,” is a shift into a more electronic sound, reminiscent of Bonobo’s “Ten Tigers”. It’s a mellow electronic track with dreamy vocals, and melodic guitar riffs are subtly orchestrated around an ambient beat. The fourth and final song on the EP, “Seven in the Morning” is my favourite. Here, we have a simple track that’s just guitar and vocals. It feels like we’re in Duncan Hood’s bedroom, listening to him play.

The stronger qualities of the EP are the level of experimentation, variety of song styles, and the catchy and well-crafty outro hooks that linger in my head. Now that I’ve had a taste, I want to hear more from Duncan Hood.

Top Track: “Seven in the Morning”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , ,

Review – “The Fabulist” – Juniperus

coverreviewed by Michael Thomas

Juniperus is yet more proof that the Canadian music scene is an endless well of creativity. This blog has covered plenty of creative albums, sometimes inspired by poetry or other works, but this may be something never seen before. In a nutshell, The Fabulist takes on 12 of Aesop’s fables and turns them into folk songs, with each character given a unique voice. Apparently the live show even incorporates shadow puppetry.

Yet it’s not children’s music, which is what makes this album so fascinating. Not to mention the beautiful album aesthetic—as if the album artwork wasn’t pretty enough to look at, each song features a gorgeous illustration of the subject matter.

Jeffrey Popiel deserves major credit for what he’s put together here—he plays a slew of instruments and has a ridiculous vocal range, hitting such high highs and such low lows that it’s difficult to imagine that’s all by one person. He’s also amassed a number of backup players who add extra vocal colour and instruments like oboe and bassoon.

Here’s another first for the blog—a suggestion of background reading. Take a few minutes to read the fable that inspires each song, they’re all very short and will help you better appreciate the way Popiel and co. expand on the characters and storylines.

The album’s folk core isn’t solid, allowing some songs to veer in orchestral territory, most pronounced in album standout “The Vain Jackdaw.” The story, about a jackdaw who wants to become king of the birds by stealing feathers from others, bursts to life with instruments heard on no other song. Flutes add a sense of breathlessness over the instruments heard elsewhere on the album, like oboe. “The Moon and her Mother” creates a twinkling melody from a vibraphone and more to bring to mind the lunar entity.

But sometimes a simple touch does the trick. “The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs” tells a story of a greed husband and wife with just classical guitar and trombone. “The Fox Without a Tail” is a clarinet-studded affair that takes an interesting twist on the story of the fox who loses his tail and tries to convince his fellow foxes to lose theirs.

With such comforting and beautiful music, it’s easy to forget that the music can occasionally turn dark. Closer “The Boys and the Frogs” is full of death (though described a lot more thoroughly than the fable itself) while “The Ox and the Frogs” has an abrupt end that will take a minute to process. (Side note: what did Aesop have against frogs?)

This is only a brief glimpse into the wonderful world Popiel has woven. Considering Aesop has written so many fables, it would be wonderful to see several more albums of this stuff.

Top Tracks: “The Ox and the Frogs”; “The Vain Jackdaw”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Timber Timbre Should Win the Polaris Prize

photo courtesy Queen's University

photo courtesy Queen’s University

by Michael Thomas

A mere three years ago, Timber Timbre was in the running for the aptly-named Creep on Creepin’ On. It brought an expansion to the band’s previously sparse sound and may have single-handedly birthed the “creep-folk” genre.

And then, in December 2013, the band began teasing their new album, with a decidedly un-creepy title: Hot Dreams. Was Timber Timbre undergoing another transformation? As it turns out, the album title is almost a fakeout, and a good one at that. What Hot Dreams actually turned out to be was a record for mastery. If Creep on Creepin’ On was creepy, then Hot Dreams is outright terrifying. It is because this album is an album of mastery that it deserves to take the prize.

Another tenement of a masterful album is that of collaboration. Taylor Kirk has his usual co-conspirators in Simon Trottier and Mika Posen, and he’s once again brought master saxophonist Colin Stetson (playing “atypically velvet” tones, apparently) along for the ride. But he doesn’t stop there—on “Curtains?!” and “Bring Me Simple Men” he sings songs written by the wonderful Simone Schmidt. Her moody songwriting is a perfect fit for the moody band.

Musically, the album never gets too complex, allowing each individual instrument to sink its teeth in, so to speak. Funereal organs create a sense of dread in “Beat the Drum Slowly” and “The New Tomorrow.” Careful guitar picking makes “Bring Me Simple Men” and “The Three Sisters” are warnings that there’s plenty more to come. And let’s not forget about the bass, which delivers a solid thrashing in songs like “Curtains?!”

It’s when Kirk sings that the songs take on a blanket of darkness that even the gloomiest Canadian songwriter can’t even begin to match. “Grand Canyon” could be a pleasant downtempo travel song if it wasn’t for this lyric: “I pray the Grand Canyon take our plane inside its mouth.”

Mika Posen’s wonderful if eerie strings bring “This Low Commotion” to a start, like something straight out of a horror movie, and Kirk begins singing about spurned love: “You turned me on then you turned on me.” The chorus then says “this low commotion is going down” without ever specifying what exactly that is; it’s not the only time Kirk’s lyrics sound like threats.

Perhaps the most hair-raising song begins the most simply. “Run From Me” is accompanied, for a large portion of the song, by one piano note every 1.5 seconds or so. It makes Kirk’s lyrics, like “Run my good darling/Run my good wife/You better run/You better run for your life” outright soul-crushing. As the song approaches the two-minute mark, the instruments start to come in—strummed acoustic guitar, strings, angelic vocals—and the threatening lyrics become more and more real.

There’s even darkness in “Hot Dreams” the song, which on the surface seems to be a ballad. The gentle guitar and piano and Stetson’s saxophone solo later on make this one of the sexiest songs ever written, but one single line can change what the song might mean to some people. Just one line: “I want to follow through on all my promises and threats to you babe.”

Hot Dreams is the lean and terrifying machine that Creep on Creepin’ On wasn’t quite, and for Timber Timbre’s undeniable mastery of of its form, not present in any other album on this list, this album should go all the way. No Canadian album will ever out-creep it. And let’s face it—we could all use an image of Canada that isn’t one of apologetic politeness.

Posted in Grayowl Rants & Raves | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review – “Die & Carry On” – The Devil’s Half Acre

by Eleni Armenakis a3614159804_2

The Devil’s Half Acre couldn’t have chosen a more suitable theme for their third and final album than Die & Carry On. As an album “inspired by beginnings and endings and beginnings again,” there’s a near-morbid finality to the lyrics and, as the album progresses, a downturn in the energy on the tracks that conveys that sense of ending too.

Maybe the band was aware that their demise was on its way when they got down to self-recording their last release in Northwest Cove, Nova Scotia, near their home of Halifax. It would make sense if, as each member prepared to move on to new places or priorities, they inevitably found themselves dwelling on endings and what comes after—combining that with a bigger metaphor on life and death gives their final notes a sense of momentum that doesn’t usually come with this kind of album.

As usual, The Devil’s Half Acre are at their best when leaning on their folk roots, especially when they really start tapping into the rhythms of the East Coast’s mournful sea ballads. Transient “Grains Of Sand” acts as strong buffer between the harmonica-heavy opener and the first folk interlude. It’s also one of the few moments where the energetic strumming comes out better than the vocals, which don’t yet feel like they’ve settled into the album’s eventual direction. It’s the same impression that keeps opener “Die & Carry On” from really pulling all it can out of the lyrics, “Know so many people/know they all die.” And “Big Moon City,” the last of the rock-heavy tracks before the resonant finale, pushes too hard to sound rough when it’s already become obvious where this album’s strengths lie.

But “Stubborn Horses,” which falls into the band’s country experimentation more than its folk music, packs a bigger punch because it’s not trying to show off as much as the rest, instead laying itself bare with the recurring, “I get wounded from time to time.” Then again, coming quickly after “Shovel” there’s quite a bit of repetition that keeps this slower couplet from having the same impact as the one that follows.

It’s the album’s last two tracks that are the most memorable, really stripping down the instrumentation and driving home the finality of life with mournful vocals—while somehow leaving that sense of carrying on that carries through the album. It’s hard not to go back to “Last Words” again after each listen to catch those finale, restful notes for a couple minutes more. In some ways it’s a shame that The Devil’s Half Acre are winding down just as they’re starting to move predominantly into the folk arena. Then again, it’s hard to think of a better song for things to end on.

Top Track: “Last Words”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN Should Win the Polaris Prize


by Jack Derricourt

It’s a bleak time for rock and roll. It always ebbs and flows, this guitar music of the soul, between the charts and the trash can; right now, there are guiding lights, but the air feels stale, like we’ve heard it all before. Nestled in the bunker of the underground, listening to the air raid sirens of Lorde and Nicki Minaj signalling with screeching abandon above, it’s hard to think we denim-clad, button-bedecked, Weezer Blue Album junkies will ever sniff the fresh scent of platinum approval again. Get over yourself with that last part. If popular acclaim carries cultural capital in hip hop, then the least some folks with guitars can hope for is a stake in the game.

But, if such ambition lies outside the scope of reality, at least for now, and we Northern Children need a sedative to get us through the blank, grey world of Harper’s Canadian Wonderland, I can offer you a vibrant one: YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN and their Polaris nominated album UZU. The Paper Bag Records stalwarts caused quite a stir when they beat back the brains of all listeners with their previous, self-titled (if abbreviated) full-length YT//ST. The group favour maximalist arrangements, sweeping sounds, and aim to infuse the dramatic into their work at every turn. Metal, prog, psych, Noh singing, it’s all there. And the new record seeks to push those elements even further.

There is a rhythm that betrays experimentation perceivable on UZU. Yes, they’ve pulled a Sgt. Pepper blending, to keep one long track going the whole way through the record. And the sounds are familiar, not something out of Bjork’s secret nightmares. But the combination of warbling vocals from lead singer Ruby Kato Attwood are freshly pressed into the art of fellow performance artist Alaska B and the remainder of the TITAN. The keys are superior throughout the record, and are shoved to the front of most tracks they appear on, providing an approachable, familiar texture to latch onto amidst swirling synths and grinding guitar parts. So this is the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road of YT//ST’s career so far? Yep. You could definitely speak that truth into your beer glass.

The record plays out like a journey — or an epic manga adventure, if you follow the band’s enthusiastic imagery to its logical conclusion — and the destinations along the way are thrilling to the ears. The heaviest track to be offered up, “Hall of Mirrors,” shows how mythology should be done: chaotic images of corpses and bloody moons go so well with minor chord organ work and a machine gun kick drum. “Seasickness” parts one and two feel like a computer’s road trip algorithm. There is so much jam coursing through these two songs, that I wish there were parts three and four as well. And the finale, “Saturn’s Return,” begins with the tautness of a ballad before devolving into scrubby white noise. The sonic trek of UZU is involved with universal demons and lit by eery phosphorescence. Wouldn’t it be nice for something this weird to be honoured with Canada’s musical award mainstay?

This is the second time YT//ST have made it to the Polaris, and the first time they happen to be on the short list. If they don’t win this year, they’ll be back. The level of artistry present in their work is undeniable. And the music keeps getting more complicated, more interesting. This is an exciting, black and white, rock and roll band — even if they are living in a grey era.

Posted in Grayowl Rants & Raves | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review – “Blackburn Hall” – Blackburn Hall

reviewed by Elysse Clomaa1677484936_2

If there’s one thing that I’ve accepted about my transition into adulthood, it’s the never-ending pile of chores that greet me when I arrive home from school or work. Today I cleaned my room, organized some file folders, and assembled a shelf while listening to Blackburn Hall’s self-titled debut album, released in August 2014. The record took me away from my long day of classes, chores, and admin, and brought me into a state of longing for my carefree teen years.

Here’s why:
Imagine if Death Cab For Cutie, The Weakerthans, and Attack in Black amalgamated into a super group, combined the best of their respective sounds, and then released an album; the result would be Blackburn Hall. Death Cab, Weakerthans, and Attack in Black propelled me through adolescence, and Blackburn Hall’s S/T debut is filled with songs that give me a pleasant sense of nostalgia for my teens.

Blackburn Hall is a super combo of Hamilton’s indie veterans. Adam Melnick and Pete Hall, formerly of the band Huron, join with Dan Emperingham on drums to form the “power trio” that is Blackburn Hall. The album is the creative effort of a team of musicians and producers who have collaborated with the members of Blackburn Hall before: Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck, A Northern Chorus), Mitch Bowden (Chore, The Priddle Concern), Julie Fader (Great Lake Swimmers, Sarah Harmer), and Terra Lightfoot. The impressive roster of artists behind Blackburn Hall has made for an artful, polished, and cohesive album.

“49”, the first track on the album, instantly reminded me of Attack in Black’s album, The Curve of the Earth— it’s a mid-tempo folk-rock song, there’s lap steel guitar, twangy guitar chords, and prominent, angsty vocals. The rest of the album is much of the same. Never exceeding a head-bopping tempo, the songs contain soft electric guitar riffs that resonate without overpowering the vocals. In the style of pop-punk songs, Blackburn Hall’s lyrics are clever, ambitious, and convincing. The vocals take center stage on every song, and are complemented with smooth lap steel and melodic guitar.

For me, it’s Pete Hall’s voice that sells the album. His voice has a certain emotional conviction possessed by a select few. He joins a litany of male singer-songwriters that have the ability to touch hearts, like Ben Gibbard, John K. Samson, and Daniel Romano. Hall’s evocative vocals make for effective country ballads like “49,” and “Echoes Beat Louder Than Drums.” Blackburn Hall is filled with alt-rock anthems like “Black’s Forest”, or “The Attic,” which speak to the heart and make you feel. “Highways” and “Walk Into The Sun” are instantly memorable soft, folk-rock songs. Blackburn Hall’s S/T debut is a place where alternative, folk, and rock meet, and get along.

Top Tracks: “49,” “Black’s Forest,” “The Attic”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , , , ,