Review – “Astrophobia EP” – Marble Pawns

astrophobiareviewed by Jack Derricourt

When you look into the night sky, do you hear music? Do the stars reverberate for you privately with tones and tempos? Yeah, me neither. Thankfully, Victoria B.C’s Marble Pawns has taken some time away from the disastrous forest fires to illustrate the planetary bodies for his listeners.

Astrophobia is an EP of swelling synth lines and heavily effected guitar parts. But it’s also one artist’s attempt to take on the second coming of Cosmos; we live in an incredibly astronomically inclined age. We can live stream the schedules of astronauts in the International Space Station, or check out the most recent glamour selfies of Mars rovers whenever we feel like it. Our universe has never been so immediate. The truth that flows from this close connection with the solar system and beyond is heavy. The sound that Marble Pawns uses to illustrate that truth is equally hefty. Hence the swollen synths and guitar effects.

There was a great deal of thought put into the construction of the EP, and each laboriously laboured track travels on a perfectly balanced path around the other, converging and rotating in a delicate orbit. Opener “Flipping Like a Coin” produces a carnival of dreamy chords and melodies, while the vocal rambles with realization and psych word association. The composition of static-y, jumbled radio broadcasts at the start of “Radiolight” is another carefully constructed and delightful gem. Even the track sequence, the changing of moods between “Gaia” and “Alpha Centauri” being particularly exquisite, shows real dedication to examining the album as a complete work.

There are many things to love about the way that Marble Pawns plays with the theme of space and the interconnectedness of existence. But perhaps the greatest thing is that these five songs all came freely from this creative man’s love of the stars. It’s a timeless thing, this astral inspiration. When you listen to “Beyond the Cosmic Dark,” you’re listening to the same awe and respect that moved Vincent Van Gogh or Gustav Holst. And those super retro synth lines and vocal layerings are damn good. It makes me want to jump the next shuttle and host a Ionian dance off.

The summer is in full swell. Grab a copy of this fine EP, bring it with you out of the city, and stand under the open sky. Look up and realize that you are very lucky to be alive, in a world filled with starlight and gorgeous music.

Top Tracks: “Alpha Centauri” ; “Beyond the Cosmic Dark”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Behind the Hoots: June

Yukon Blonde

Yukon Blonde

Reminder: Behind the Hoots is a collaborative project by our writers and guest contributors. If you would like to contribute to a future post, you can reach us here.

“Rush” – David R. Elliott (Lyrics by David R. Elliott) 

Gladys Love, I’m glad we met. I fall apart like a wet cigarette. 
I buy the smokes, you pay the rent. I walk the line like there ain’t nothing left. 

As I interpret it, “Rush” is a song about settling for something because it’s comfortable and because deep down you don’t think you deserve to expect anything better. Gladys doesn’t seem particularly ecstatic, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Good enough. The cup is half-full. It would be nice if it was closer to full, but that’s too much to ask. When they meet he doesn’t fall madly, crazily, giddily in love. He falls apart like a wet cigarette. The entire song can pretty well be summed up in that one line. Now, that is great writing.

– Mark Anthony Brennan

“Hannah” – Yukon Blonde (Lyrics by Jeff Innes)

Oh Hannah, how was Hillside? Did you pull the hearts out of their eyes? 

Stream via Soundcloud

In the simplest song from Yukon Blonde’s funky synth-filled On Blonde record, Innes writes an endearing ode to his BFF and fellow musician Hannah Georgas who he credits for helping him through the most difficult time in his life. Also the sweetest song on the album, Innes, amongst a dreamy soundscape, begins the song by asking how Georgas’ Hillside (Music Festival) performance was. And because listeners get heart eyes when seeing Georgas live, he perfectly captures that experience but asking “did you pull the hearts out of their eyes?” Before it hits the minute mark, the song dissolves into a groove that fits right in with the rest of On Blonde, making for a great little number that’s bursting with love.

– Laura Stanley 

“A Long Time Ago” – Kalle Mattson (Lyrics by Kalle Mattson) 

Memories have fading scars, looking out for more.

Mattson whirls between the anxieties of the past and future in “A Long Time Ago” This line in particular gets at me because it is a lovely metaphor on our ability to move on after heartbreak or life’s hardest moments. We all have our scars, but we also know that they won’t be our last.

– Tiana Feng 

“Guilt” – Tough Age (Lyrics by J. Samson)

All those left who wish me ill can all…get fucked.

It’s good to know that Tough Age can punch with a lot more than just its guitars and drums. “Guilt” is a particularly sprawling song on this relatively short album, following the narrator as he deals with “someone” in his head. Finally, it seems, he’s had enough of inward thinking and is ready to lash out; the line’s pause right before the final two words increases the impact of the huge “fuck you.” And naturally, after he’s made this declaration, the instrumentation and tempo ramps up dramatically.

Michael Thomas

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Review – “We Are Not Here OST” – Clara Engel

we are not here ostreviewed by Michael Thomas

Toronto’s Clara Engel is a highly prolific musician, and her dark, dramatic music is a wonder to take in. For her latest project, however, she’s gone a little simpler—but no less haunting.

She provided the soundtrack for Aaron Mirkin’s spooky short film We Are Not Here, and I highly recommend checking out the film and then listening to this soundtrack again. The film isn’t an easy watch—three seemingly unrelated scenes linked together by narration about an upcoming road, a lake and a forest, but it couldn’t have had better music to go along with it than what Engel has put together.

The five compositions perfectly capture the feeling of creeping dread that encompasses the film. The first four tracks, all named after locations in the film (“The Lake,” “The Forest,” etc) are simple and spacious. No lyrics guide the listener to what the song’s intention is. Rather, each song has a mood. “The Road” has dark, repeating chords that will instantly accompany the beginning and ending sequences of the film.

“The Forest” is kind of the opposite, with many more notes strummed, almost bringing to mind the feeling of floating through space. Where “The Road” lets your mind wander, “The Forest” makes you feel like something is coming. “The Lake” has that same eerie feeling and same bright notes, while “The Shed” has a similar darkness as “The Road.”

All of that changes with “When the Spell Breaks.” Pretty much nothing can be heard for the first 30 seconds, and Engel breaks the spell with clear vocals, asking “When the spell breaks, where will I go?” The barest of instruments back her up as she narrates the listener through the gloom, until a momentous final line: “I’ll dress your wound with my life.”

The OST isn’t long by any means, but it wonderfully captures the uncanny space We Are Not Here created.

Top Track: “When the Spell Breaks”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Secret Midnights” – M. Mucci

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

secretmidnights

What do you stare at as midnight closes in on you? Is it the moon, shining out like a beacon for your late/early yearnings? Or maybe your pillow — a sweet comfort in the harshest night. M. Mucci distills those products of wakeful dreaming, and concocts Secret Midnights for all.

Secret Midnights is actually a combination: the cassette is the amalgamation of two separate releases by the artist: “The Secret Is Knowing When to Close Your Eyes” and “Midnights.” The two releases take the form of a-side b-side on this new Arachnidiscs product, and they do so with aplomb.

The entirety of the album is lightly reverberating guitar. There is little consequence to the progression of sounds elicited by the instrument, but that suits the Arachnidisc landscape just fine. These tunes will mellow you out or add significantly to your ability to calm yourself before you alarm yourself.

“A Secret” is a sculpted production. The tones spear off into the distance, allowing the listener to follow cadences with patience and interest. There are so many roads being travelled, it’s hard to pick one to latch onto. But M. Mucci delights without narrative. The stars seem to come out as the secrets are revealed.

The “Midnights” section of the release feels more connected to a format, or a center at the very least. There are lullabyes embedded in the stuttering guitar lines, chances for melody to gain the upper hand. For such delicate instrumentation, M. Mucci never leaves a violent intention too far behind: the definition in the sound has force to it, there is nothing soft about the creation of the tracks as they peel off, one after another.

Secret Midnights is a lot of decadent realism produced by the plucking of guitar strings. It is an album composed of two previous releases, but the sounds and symptoms of listening are so alike, you’ll wonder why they weren’t packaged together like this before. For the hard of frowning and the lovers of love, all over the world!

Top Track: Both of them

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “All Signs Point To Yes” – Dave Monks

reviewed by Laura StanleyMONKSCOVER_FINAL_WEB

All Signs Point To Yes excels because of its simplicity. Like his bandmate before him (Graham Wright), Tokyo Police Club member Dave Monks writes quick and catchy songs that are not covered by the band’s usual treatment but left to their own devices. Minus the “indie-pop” swatch, what is left are songs that are just as catchy as any TPC offering but are just that much more sincere. 

“Vegas,” “Gasoline,” and “Summer Dream,” all have a similar combo of an acoustic guitar, various light instrumentation, and an upbeat, dare I say, cute disposition. In “Vegas,” Monks sings of finding “the one for me” in a handclap filled, fun romp. Likewise, “Summer Dream” muses on finding the one, though this time in a more inventive way. In Monk’s summer dream, he marries a beauty queen, has nine children and names them Taylor, and knows she loves him because “I made her.” A great song to help with your own summer time daydreaming.

Notably the quietest of the bunch, “Gasoline” is also the standout. Opening with a simple piano medley and the sweet, sweet line, “save me a part of your heart if you’ve got enough,” “Gasoline” spreads to a folk-pop gem that’s capped off by another great line, “we could start a fire without gasoline.”

In the rest of the EP, Monks expands his instrumentation ever so slightly, including some strings, horns, and some ramped-up percussion. The full-band treatment of “Heartbreak Blues” could easily be a quirky TPC b-side, “The Rules” swings along building up to a triumphant 30 seconds or so towards its end, and “Miss You” flies by thanks to a great drum groove.  

All signs point to you needing to listen to this EP.

Top Track: “Gasoline”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “2015” – Everything is Geometry

376034_EIG_JCARD_coverreviewed by Michael Thomas

Long distances can be tough on bands, especially in Canada, but it seems to have worked out swimmingly for Everything is Geometry. Kristjanne Vosper lives in Vancouver and Ken Holiday lives in New Brunswick, but that hasn’t stopped them from creating the brilliantly chaotic 2015 tape, now out on Arachnidisc’s No Love imprint.

Though classified as an EP, 2015 cycles through so many styles of rock music it could be called an album. Everything from simple programmed beats to an all-out assault of guitars and drums has its place on the record, but no one thing will stay with you too long.

Starting off, the EP is like an explosion. “Everything is Geometry in the Year 2015″ only takes a few seconds to stretch its legs before launching into a propulsive guitar/drum beat, and some poignant first words: “Why even ask, why even bother talking about it?” That takes a bit of a breather with “Brave New Waves,” which of course references the seminal music program while also being a nice and slowed-down song built on dual vocals and a few spacey notes on keys.

From then on, Holiday and Vosper make a hell of a lot of noise. “Carpinteria” is positively pyrotechnic thanks to a slew of yelled phrases toward the end, like “Ride the pony, break its leg, you can’t make egg salad without the egg.” The spirit stays alive in the extra loud and guitar-filled “Cabin Trax.”

Even more fragment-sized songs still manage to make a hell of an impression. “Once and Once and Once,” should it ever be expanded into a full-song, will be mind-blowing. At 45 seconds, it still has a great, rocking introduction and dual vocals. That track is the only one with vocals that’s under a minute. There’s also “Fall Tape,” “Winter Tape” and “Pre Outro,” which feature various kinds of instrumental noodling.

If everything is geometry this year, it’s exciting to see what 2016 will bring.

Top Tracks: “Brave New Waves”; “Once and Once and Once”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Key Change” – Mocky

reviewed by Anna Alger

The Lumsden, Saskatchewan born shapeshifter known as Mocky continues to diversify his storytelling with the part instrumental, orchestral, acoustic, and catchy vocal-led songs of Key Change. There are songs in the realm of jazz here too, just going to show the limitless and indefinable nature of Mocky’s myriad talents. Having worked with artists such as Jamie Lidell and Feist, living in cities from Berlin to Los Angeles, his current homebase, Mocky brings a wealth of creativity and experience to each new project.

“Upbeat Thing” starts off the record, with its layering of a bright flute melody, chunky percussion, and grounding piano. A curious, jazzy tone is set within the first few seconds of the following song, “When Paulie Gets Mad.” Delicate strings weave together the variety of instrumental sections within the piece, giving it a laid back air. Mocky kicks things into high gear with the shuffling drums and strong bass of the aptly named, “Soulful Beat.” A jam that is just structured enough to flow yet be self-contained, the track is a feel-good instrumental number, full of playful melodies and ornamentation. Evocative and featuring graceful harmonies, “Weather Any Storm” is a heartfelt tribute to a relationship’s strength.

“Living in the Snow” is driven by a thumping bass line, wondrous strings, and soft vocal musings. Rooted in pop, the song’s simplicity is key to its immediate likability. “Time Inflation (Message to R2)” bounces along to a tight rhythm section, but is not without its moments of free jamming. The sweet melancholy of “Tomorrow Maker” is made by introspective keys, defeated bass, and forlorn vocals. As the rhythm section regains vigour in the song’s bridge, angst is communicated in a more textured, danceable way.

Through his history leading up to the making of Key Change alone, it is apparent that Mocky is able to thrive in many different places and parts of the musical landscape. This album shows the melding of Mocky’s experiences in order to create a wonderfully spirited, eclectic record – equal parts funky and delicately soaring melodies.

Key Change is available on June 30th via Heavy Sheet.

Top Track: “Tomorrow Maker,” “Living in the Snow”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good) + *swoop*

 

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Review – “Perish The Thought” – Betty & Veronica

reviewed by Elysse Cloma

a0868819508_16Quirky bands are the spice of life and electro-pop band Betty & Veronica is extra spicy. Their easter egg blue-coloured website is graced with the image of an adorable kitten centred on the landing page and features an excellent pie chart entitled “Chart Title”, which mostly seems to reveal that they’re a bunch of jokesters who can use Microsoft Excel. All joking aside, the Montreal-based trio released their latest album Perish The Thought in early 2015. Described on their Bandcamp page as being “underwater prom music”, the album is reverb-heavy and filled with danceable pop-rock tunes.

Betty & Veronica make electro-pop with a nostalgic sound. This conclusion might be drawn from their all American Archie comic-referencing band name but their music has the feel of 1960s rock and roll enmeshed with 80s synth pop. “CryCryCry” opens with drum machine and one of the album’s catchiest guitar riffs. The chorus features a bouncy bassline and a Beach Boys-esque three-part harmony. Opening track “Mystery Date” is a catchy love song that reveals the album’s concept of lovers at an underwater prom and features the album’s title “perish the thought” in the lyrics. It’s a surf rock tune with a distinguished synth part all throughout.

When Betty & Veronica aren’t making tunes with a surf rock feel, they’re nailing their lo-fi sound. “Just Forget” opens with a noisy distorted guitar section. “Martyr In A Cardigan” and “Time Flies” reference Montreal in their lyrics, and have a relaxed alt-rock groove.

With songs that take cues from early rock and roll, Perish The Thought brings classic pop sounds into the present using synth and drum machine.

Top Tracks: “Martyr In A Cardigan”; “CryCryCry”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really good)

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One-on-One with Kalle Mattson

highres3

by Laura Stanley

Kalle Mattson is not afraid of success. “For musicians nowadays, especially in indie-rock, saying you’re ambitious about your music is a dirty word. It’s not cool to say you want to be big but I don’t care. If you’re not striving to be big then what’s the point? I want a song on the radio, I’m not ashamed to say that,” the Sault Ste. Marie-born, Ottawa-based songwriter tells me over Skype.

The release of his third LP Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold in 2014 propelled his career forward and earned him a spot on the 2014 Polaris Music Prize long list, a seemingly never-ending stream of tour dates both in North America and abroad, and Pitchfork gave the record a positive rating if you care about such a thing.

As a collection of raw emotions that include Mattson dealing with the passing of his mother, Someday is also a very personal record. A year after its release and hundreds of shows performing it later and Mattson remains very proud of what is has done for him. It’s still obviously really meaningful to me and I’m really happy that that record was the one that really got me a lot of the things that I really wanted,” he says.

“It was really hard singing those songs on Someday every single night. You couldn’t really disconnect from it. I realized that a lot of what made Someday special and made it connect with people is that the more personal I got the more universal it became.”

Like Someday, his new EP Avalanche, due out August 21st, is very personal. The title Avalanche comes from the feeling of everything falling apart, a feeling that he has become too familiar with. “One thing I really realized when I started touring so much is that when one thing starts going well in your life all of the other stuff starts falling about. I had three band members quit in the span of a year, I became technically homeless,” he reveals.

Avalanche is also about the desperate feelings of uncertainty that come with being in your early 20s. The feeling when your friends start getting married and finding great jobs and you’re left in their dust. In an open letter about the EP, Mattson states that he sees the EP as a “mini-record” because of this idea that runs throughout the six songs.

As the next step in his ongoing unabashed quest for more popularity, Avalanche expands Mattson’s pop tendencies and explores a soundscape that, at times, is unlike anything heard from him before. “From where I’m at, there’s a few different ways I could have gone and I don’t think going weirder and less accessible would be the smart way to go at this point in time,” he says. 

“I really like pop music and I always think that I make some version of pop music but I think it’s a bit more out in the open now.”

Teaming up with Jim Bryson and various contributing musicians, he estimates that he plays about 70% of the instruments. The title track is anthemic sounding with a big catchy chorus that’s filled with “woahs,” “New Romantics” is another big number that’s anchored by a memorable melody, and in the EP’s first single “A Long Time Ago” (heard below), Mattson tests out a higher vocal register and expands his instrumental use. 

“There’s no electric guitar on [“A Long Time Ago”] which is a first for me, or close to it. It’s just mountains of synths and building it around that and when Jim added all the harmonies it really came together,” explains Mattson. 

For those who are fans of his acoustic songs, fear not, Avalanche is not without them. The expansion of his sound is merely the product of his continual determination to be a successful musician, “I think that all of my records show a bit of an evolution. I don’t like doing the same thing over and over again,” he observes. 

The next step in Mattson’s evolution will soon be unveiled as he will be spending his summer writing a new album. “I have to have another record done by the end of the year,” he says. “A lot of people put out EPs now and they’ll take that EP and add 7 songs and make a record out of it. I think that might be a possibility what will happen to this EP but I’m sort of writing a brand new record.”

He laughs and says, “It never ends.”

Catch Kalle at the Dragonboat Festival in Ottawa tomorrow and watch out for some more tour dates this summer. 

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One-on-One with Walrus

Walrus playing NXNE on June 18, 2015

Walrus playing NXNE on June 18, 2015

by Michael Thomas

As I meet up with Walrus a few hours before their NXNE set, Jordan Murphy says “We drove from Rivière-du-Loup.” The previous day they drove from Halifax. He is not saying this as an excuse; this is just a part of this quartet’s reality. Though they won’t say it about themselves, they are warriors. They are not the only band to tour endlessly and to play in a million other bands (The Age and Shadow Folk, to name a few), but their sheer tenacity—perhaps not unlike the mammal with which they share a name—is impressive.

Though Walrus haven’t been together as a band for an exceedingly long time (their debut Onetwotree came out in 2012), they’ve come a long, long way. Initially consisting of brothers Jordan and Justin Murphy (Justin is the primary songwriter), it was a simple bedroom-pop operation. Band membership eventually expanded to as much as six people, before it finally settled on the core of the Murphy brothers plus Justin McGrath and Adam LeDrew.

As the band solidified and Walrus became a live act, it also changed the feel of the songs. The band’s most recent EP, Glam Returns, is their loudest yet. According to Justin, live performance is the reason the songs changed so much.

“My first time recording the songs, we’d never played a live show or anything, so that idea or that aspect of it wasn’t even in the process of writing songs,” he says. “Now we have a whole band and tour and stuff, and you’ve got to incorporate the live idea into when you’re writing a song.”

Along the way, they also hooked up with Out of Sound, home to great acts like Whoop-Szo, WTCHS and Lonnie and the Garden, and Out of Sound released Glam Returns as well as one PIE split release featuring the band.

Fast-forward to 2015, where Walrus is once again starting up the tour cycle with a vengeance, and with an album recorded and in the mixing and mastering process. Their live set and yet-to-be-released album are a present and past scenario, in a sense.

“Everything we play tonight will be newer than the album,” McGrath says.

“The songs that are on the album, we only play a few of them now,” LeDrew adds. “They’re a year-and-a-half old.”

“We play too much. We gotta keep ourselves interested,” Jordan says.

Their thoughts about the album mirror what other musicians have said in the past about the recording process: by the time it comes out, the band has already moved onto even newer material.

“You know, we’re listening back to the album after we recorded it and it’s like ‘Jeez, I don’t even play that song that way anymore!'” LeDrew says. “It’s funny. It’s like a snapshot of where a song was back then.”

“Some of the songs that are on the album are songs when I wrote them, I was like ‘This is awesome’ and you listen back and you’re like ‘Uh… it’s on there now!'” Justin says.

In a way, this furious pace of songwriting makes sense, Walrus being a band from Halifax and all. The band members describe the scene just as it’s been described many times before: hypercreative, where everybody helps out everyone else. Besides the aforementioned The Age (featuring McGrath and LeDrew) and Shadow Folk (McGrath and Jordan), a few band members played on Scott Nicks’ upcoming album.

And they get very complimentary when talking about fellow Halifax bands, They say plenty of good things about Best Fiends and The Everywheres, and later McGrath brings up No Bodies—only to be saddened a few seconds later when Justin tells him they’re probably broken up.

At the end of the day, the guys of Walrus aren’t necessarily trying to become the biggest band in the world. They’ll be happy to break even, at least.

“We don’t want to go broke driving to all these places and putting money in vehicles just to play,” LeDrew says. “I mean I love it, that’s fun and what you gotta do, but at the end of the day we’re trying to get the name out there and get by.”

Driving has certainly had its risks, especially in the winter.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever been driving in the van as the engine blows, quite an experience,” LeDrew says dryly.

Still, they’d like to play shows abroad. They’ve played as far as the States (LeDrew said it was his first time out of Canada) and would love to someday play Europe and maybe elsewhere.

Even LeDrew’s call-to-action is rooted in modesty: “If you see our name when we’re in your town, come check us out. Maybe you’ll like it.”

You can check Walrus out on the east coast in the Ontario/Quebec area this summer:

June 26 – Saint John NB – Pepper’s Pub
June 27 – Gagetown NB – Feelsgood Folly Fest
June 30 – Halifax NS – Red Bull Tour Bus/Dine Alone Records 10th Anniversary  w/Tokyo Police Club & Spencer Burton
July 4 – Ottawa ON – Mugshot’s Jail Bar
July 5 – London ON – Out of Sound Haus
July 6 – Waterloo ON – Princess Café w/Yonatan Gat
July 7 – Toronto ON – Burdock Music Hall w/Dusted
July 9 – Quebec City QC – Festival OFF de Quebec
July 10 – Montreal QC – L’Escogriffe
July 12 – Antigonish NS – Evolve Festival
July 17 – Halifax NS – Gus’ Pub
July 18 – Charlottetown PEI – Baba’s Lounge
July 24 – Fredericton NB – Shifty Bits Circus Inf4rno
August 1- Sackville NB – Sappyfest

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