Review – “Bad Advice” – Galen Hartley

reviewed by Laura Stanley a3270003907_2

Though Galen Hartley’s name is the only one attached, Bad Advice is primarily a communal effort. With contribution from 11 other musicians, Bad Advice is an elaborate production and the skilled musicianship involved is certainly on display.   

Bad Advice finds Hartley + Co. striking a balance between soft and slow folk-infused songs and those who are more upbeat and flirt with other categorizations like jazz or alt-country. Throughout this genre blending, Hartley’s unique vocal presence standouts. Hartley throws his voice though not in a way that’s over the top.Whether it be when questioning, “we’re too old to be satisfied  darling, where’s your appetite?” (“Red Meat Cadillac”) or a topic a bit more sombre, “when I came home I just wasn’t the same” (“Everything is True”), he sings with varying emotions allowing Hartley to produce a unique experience with each of his thirteen songs.

Bad Advice’s first two songs are of an upbeat folk-pop nature and easily grab your attention. In the standout title track, the pairing of Craig Pedersen’s trumpet and Adam Kinner on tenor saxophone are essential to the fun melody while the quick witted and quick talking vocals from Hartley makes for a great combination. The following song, “Red Meat Cadillac,” continues this moveable beat and adds fun handclaps + some “do-do-do” verses for bonus points. 

On the softer side of Bad Advice, “Slow Dancer, Bread Baker” takes its rhythm, a slow and steady beat, from its title, making it perfect for, yes, slow dancing. “Her Majesty’s Thunder and Brass” also features this steady beat but this particular track has a darker atmosphere thanks to the wail of a violin (Adrian Dolan) and lyrics telling of a troubled monarchy. 

With its tender interconnection of sadness and love, “Bring it to Me” is the strongest of this “softer side.” Featuring Tamara Sandor on backing vocals, “Bring it to Me” is melodious and unexpectedly catching and with the closing line, “I want you just the way you are, bruised and bittersweet,” get ready to be smitten with Hartley.

As heard in “Bring it to Me,” Sandor’s contributions are a highlight of Bad Advice. Sandor’s harmonies boosts “River Run Low,” which has that previously mentioned jazz feel, while “Sing One More” finds Hartley and Sandor exchanging lyrics and harmonizing for a saddening tale. 

With talent aplenty in both Galen Hartley and his friends, the only bad advice present would be if I told you not to check out this album.

Top Tracks: “Bad Advice,” “Bring it to Me”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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2014 – The Year That Was

by Jack Derricourt

Well, it’s been a good 12 months. There were highs and there were lows; mostly highs in my opinion. In no particular order:

1) Mac DeMarco at the Polaris Ceremony

Mac DeMarco’s Salad Days is a favourite record of mine, and even though he didn’t perform a track off the album for said award show, his falsetto-fused number with Juan Waters — a favourite from his residency at Smiling Buddha during NXNE — was exceptional and fun. The Mac’s irreverence for the ceremony — he had a friend from the GTA show up in a dishevelled penguin suit (March of the Penguins style, rather than black tie) — was exactly the kind of deflationary tactic the evening required. And while Tanya Tagaq rightfully stole the show with her political gestures, I was very happy watching the everyman of Canadian indie rockers doing what he does best: fucking with the program.

2) Alvvays at the Yorkville Library

I was on my first date with my girlfriend, couldn’t hear or see the band, but who cares: I was in a library watching CBC’s album of the year being performed, standing next to a beautiful girl. Listening to “Marry Me Archie” while flipping through sci fi novels is one heck of a way to feel connected with local music. I really hope to see more of the library sessions in Toronto this coming year.

3) Prom – Dumb Summer

The Editor reviewed this stellar EP, and all I could do was listen and gawp. The Toronto-based gloom rockers are stellar at adapting local place names and themes to elicit love in a time of laundry days and stale moments. I cannot stop listening to the record. It’s the kind of album that makes me want to wear leather all the time. Dangerous and thrilling.

4) Debut Show for Overnight

The band is an expansion of loveable rockers Sisters, adding a bass and a set of keys to the mix. Jets of stoner rock wedge in between mellow vibes and maritime highs — a little bit of every geography can be found in the wide songs of this newly minted act. Watching one of the warmup shows for this interesting new rock band was a treat. Also, looking at all the acrobat’s equipment used by the owner of the apartment to teach would-be cirque fiends was a real gas. Check these guys out as gigs approach in the new year.

5) Organ Eyes – Daze Pace

It’s important to have a record of the year: my Canadian pick of 2014 is Ottawa’s Organ Eyes and their stellar, punk fried chicken of an album, Daze Pace. There are quirks abounding, interesting lyric matter, and unique variations of song formats all over the album. I keep thinking that I’m getting older, losing my edge, falling off the bandwagon of thrash and slingshot rhythms. Then an album like the Pace comes along and makes me realize I just haven’t been listening to the good shit. I still love the good shit.

Happy Holidays! May all your last days of 2014 be filled with pompous, joyous sounds.

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Dan Mangan + Blacksmith w/ Peregrine Falls @ Mod Club

Credit: Norman Wong

Credit: Norman Wong

by Michael Thomas

As Dan Mangan releases more albums, his band also seems to get a little louder. Thus was the case last night at the Mod Club, where the re-christened Dan Mangan + Blacksmith played a show that was essentially a test run and preview of Club Meds, the new album out early next year.

Starting off the night, though, was Peregrine Falls, a duo consisting of Gord Grdina and Kenton Loewen, both Mangan’s bandmate. Their set was all instrumental, with thrashing guitar from Grdina and pounding drums. The riffs could get fairly repetitive at times, but they at least mixed it up for one song that involved Grdina delicately playing the guitar with a bow while Loewen gently hit cymbals.

For the main event, the aforementioned three musicians were joined by John Walsh. Normally Mangan plays with a bigger band but the shortened member list worked with what they had. Opening with the ambient Club Meds opener “Offred,” it introduced the band well before moving into “Starts with Them, Ends With Us” from Oh Fortune.

Overall, Mangan + Blacksmith played a song that evenly split the less-familiar Club Meds tracks with numbers from Oh Fortune and even a few from Nice, Nice, Very Nice. A majority of the set saw technical difficulty, and on the first next few songs Mangan seemed a little stiff in his vocal delivery. But as he went on, he gradually regained his footing.

dan mangan“Mouthpiece” helped re-energize the band, which sailed into a smooth rendition of “Leaves, Trees, Forest.” Perhaps the most unexpected transition was Mangan playing the minimalistic b-side “Wants” followed directly by “Post War Blues” and all its blistering solos. Another highlight was Mangan played the lovely “Baskets” solo on acoustic guitar. Expectedly, he had the room singing along with him.

Two more Club Meds songs, “XVI” and “Forgetery,” were followed by “How Darwinian” and “If I Am Dead,” before Mangan closed the set with “Vessel,” which seemed to test his limits on how loudly he can shout. For an encore, he played a delightfully reworked version of “Sold,” stripping away its country-roots aura and making it almost bluesy. With audience participation, it was a nice way to close.

Mangan will return to Toronto in a few months, and it remains to be seen how different the music will sound with a fuller band.

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Review – “Grown Slow” – Carden Cove

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis Untitled_zps2d513e91

Quickly searching the real Carden Cove reveals what looks to be a cheerful, if restful, beach with stunning blue water—possibly a well-kept secret of Northern Ontario’s Marathon. And yet the Sudbury band that’s taken its name from the happy looking beach evokes a peculiar kind of bleakness that’s both comforting and captivating.

There are rough edges throughout Grown Slow, a sharpness to the indie folk rock that staves off any sense of dreaminess while channeling those country roots and traditional notes. Lead Spencer Jose—who’s been part of several bands including the memorable Ox—maximizes his borderline shaky voice, defying the smooth-talking singers sweeping the genre with his young growl.

There’s far more rock in Grown Slow’s first half, as “Wishbone” makes its brief, slow open before Jose and company let loose on the aptly named “Armageddon” and “Little Blue Birdhouse” whips itself into a frenzy. It’s also on this song that Carden Cove really starts exploring its own interpretation of folk—a twangy guitar races to keep up as a steady stream of handclaps gives it that bar jam feel.

While “Grown Slow” taps into rock once again, it slows down the frenetic pacing of the first couple of tracks, saving it all for a short burst that only makes the upcoming “Hell’s Kitchen” all that more poignant. Carden Cove’s balancing act in the first half is impressive, but it’s this song, with its sparse guitar and downtrodden lyrics that stands out from what’s come before.

It’s not a uniform transition from rock to folk as Carden Cove oscillates yet again with “Quiet Of The Night” before sinking into the mesmerizing “This Old Town.” The vocals settle into the stomping rhythm of the hypnotic track, adding a deep richness.

The aching notes as “Silence” closes Carden Cove’s debut mark an even more significant change as Grown Slow lives up to its own moniker—transitioning from the fast-paced fun to this somber finale. It’s a haunting end that wraps up far to quickly and abruptly, and yet it’s the song’s powerful delivery that adds the kind of weight to balance out the album’s earlier tracks.

It’s an album that truly explored the genres of rock, indie and folk and how the coalesce, blending them together in different ways to see what comes out—and reveling in the isolation of parts. In that sense, Grown Slow carves its own journey and invites you along, teasing you with the promise of fun and delivering far more than you could have expected—perhaps its own sublime commentary on that northern shore.

Top Tracks: “Hell’s Kitchen”; “Silence”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Michael’s Top 10 Albums of 2014

Silkken Laumann

Silkken Laumann

Despite my previous few years ignoring the conventional “Top 10″ lists, this year I naturally arrived at 10 albums with no internal debate. So here are my top 10 Canadian albums of the year, in alphabetical order:

Rich Aucoin – Ephemeral

One of the key indications of whether an album is going to make my year-end list is how many times I go back to it. Ephemeral resonates with me so much because of how unironically positive Rich Aucoin is about life and love. And here he’s stripped down his music to the essentials, mimicking the feel of going to one of his explosive live shows.

Doomsquad – Kalaboogie

Ever since first catching them at the 2013 Wavelength festival, I knew their debut release would be something special, and it undoubtedly is. The trio plays with spirituality and hypnotism, from tribal-sounding chants (“Born From the Marriage of the Moon and a Crocodile”) to ghostly fevers (“Ovoo”).

F&M – At Sunset We Sing

The latest record from Edmonton’s F&M is so goddamn beautiful that my album review was basically taken straight out of the Weird Canada playbook. Rarely does music move me enough to attempt poetry, but here it is. The sheer diversity of experiences and technical prowess formed a perfect fall album, with warmth and longing accented by bitter cold and painful emotion.

Galaxius Mons – GMO

Though Expwy is dead, Matt LeGroulx and Ian Jarvis are still keeping their synth-driven project a hell of a lot more than simply buoyant. For their second release, the catchy beats are amplified with the presence of a slew of guest singers. Year of Glad brings silky smoothness to “Making out with the shadows,” Ambrose brings unconventional delivery to “Firestorm,” Jef Barbara brings domination to the horn-driven “Controller Down” and the list goes on. This type of large-scale collaboration brings such joy to my cynical heart.

The Lonely Parade – Sheer Luxury

I wish I could talk about how great this band is without mentioning how young they are, but seriously—this trio makes better and catchier music than many bands with far, far more experience. Be it laid-back bass-driven tracks like “Tip of an Iceburg” and “Empty Cure” or the utter fury of “My Mom Got Hit on at a Punk Show” or “Sad Li(f)e” there’s seemingly little this band cannot do. And it’s not even just musically — lyrically they’re extra sharp, speaking of hipsters and the fucked-up reality of growing up in this day and age.

Owen Pallett – In Conflict

It’s been a big year for my personal musical heroes, but arguably no one has had as good a year as Owen Pallett. Though its release was plagued by a delay or two, the final product is magnificent and masterful, as Pallett sings more personally than he ever has before. Of parenthood or lack thereof; of feeling alienated by your city; of terror of the unknown. Through it all, Pallett has a crack team of collaborators, pushing his electronic backings into higher ground amid his already strong compositions on violin.

Silkken Laumann – Not Forever Enough

While I can never remember how many double consonants are in this band’s name, what I can remember is that I’ve completely lost track of how many times I’ve played this album since it came out in early 2014. The self-described “house punk band” creates groovy electronic soundscapes full of substance and physicality. There’s room for dancing and even a bit of quiet contemplation toward the end.

Tanya Tagaq – Animism

I’m not going to pretend her nomination for and subsequent win of the Polaris Prize wasn’t the impetus for finally picking up this stellar record. I was fortunate enough to see her live performance at the Polaris Prize gala, and I can still recall how speechless and even dizzy I felt at the sheer ferocity not just of her presence, but of the expressive arrangements from Jesse Zubot. Going through the record is like confronting the dark sides of Canadian history you want to pretend aren’t there, while also proving that the ancient art of throat singing is empowering and can be brought into a modern context.

Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams

Just when I thought Timber Timbre couldn’t expand its spooky arsenal after the aptly-named Creep on Creepin’ On, Taylor Kirk and co. have upped their game yet again. Colin Stetson’s magnificent sax takes a larger forefront here, especially in the gorgeous (and slightly terrifying) title track. And just when it seemed like Timber Timbre could only create terror with big, brash orchestral arrangements, that’s blown out of the water with the simple and unnerving “Run From Me.”

Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust

Laura’s right, I’m no casual fan of Chad VanGaalen, so it’s no surprise that I would consider this latest release one of his best yet. He’s moved somewhat away from the glitchy, experimental stuff in Soft Airplane and has now melded folk and his own brand of weirdness. “Hangman’s Son” continues to be a song that haunts my brain.

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Michael’s Top 7 EPs of 2014

Photo courtesy of Christian Hansen

Photo courtesy of Christian Hansen

This has been a wonderful, wonderful year for EPs. Here I will go over my seven favourites, in alphabetical order.

Diamond Mind – Fake Tape

They’re a fairly new band to the scene but are already, to use a cliche, killing it. Fake Tape mixes more influences than anyone can count, from the glitched-out “Dragon Egg” to the calm “Swimsuit Scene,” all with expertise and confidence.

Christian Hansen – Small Fry

The champion of sweatwave takes a bit of a departure on his latest EP, which sees him dive into heavy beats with a larger hip-hop influence. Encompassing themes of changing circumstances, inheritance and more, it’s a powerful and impossible-not-to-put-on-repeat concoction.

Hush Pup – Waterwings

This band is the only band that should be allowed to call itself “dream pop.” Ida Maidstone, as noted many times previously, has a gloriously dreamy voice, and on the band’s second EP they’ve got music that’s equally suited to dancing or gently rocking band forth.

Mu – Mu EP

The two letters in this Vancouver duo’s name probably don’t do much for SEO, but this band seriously needs to be heard. Laid-back, emotive vocals piggyback on minimalistic electronic beats for a solid introduction. I expect big things from you, Mu!

The Past – AIRLESS

Jack Deming has dropped the Ollie North name and moved onto something no less transcendent. Despite the name, The Past is utterly futuristic. There’s a warmth to this EP’s earnestness that helps it rise through Montreal’s already hypercreative musical landscape.

Saxsyndrum – SXD_EP

At this rate, if you see a release from Saxsyndrum on the blog, you can go ahead and assume that recording will appear on my year-end lists. This time, the duo has released an EP of six songs, half sax-focused and half percussion-focused. Splitting the attention doesn’t change the fact that this band’s instrumental dreamscapes are unbeatable.

Watershed Hour – Yacht Club

From the wilds of Whitby and Peterborough spring forth this amazingly badass duo who rock harder than musicians with twice their life experience. Yacht Club is the band’s best effort yet, with a slew of witty lyrics and bassy grooves you can dance to.

 

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Video premiere: Emma Louise Hewson – “The Best”

Screenshot from the video for "The Best"

Screenshot from the video for “The Best”

A constantly-moving camera turns an otherwise straightforward performance into something more interesting in the video for Emma Louise Hewson’s “The Best.” Grayowl Point is premiering the video, the first and only single from Hewson’s debut EP, EMMA.

As for the song, it features Hewson on piano with Raphael Roter brushing away on drums. Hewson’s R&B vocal delivery makes the otherwise solemn-sounding pop song sound like something new.

Watch the video below.

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Laura’s Top 10 Releases of 2014

Alvvays (Photo by Colin Medley)

Alvvays (Photo by Colin Medley)

by Laura Stanley 

I’m running out of (snarky) introductions for my year-end lists! Sooo…please enjoy my opinion of outstanding albums, ordered alphabetically, from 2014. It’s been a weird year. Kind regards:

Alvvays - S/T

Making an appearance on many year-end lists, it is quite obvious that Toronto band Alvvays has exploded this year. Their self-titled debut record is an array of pop-hooks, love songs, and twenty-something insecurities put to music. While the hazy pop music style is very trendy right now, the skillful songwriting of lead singer Molly Rankin and the talents of the rest of Alvvays enables this band to not be a passing trend.

BadBadNotGood- III

As mentioned in my overlooked acts post, jazz fusion trio BadBadNotGood are wonderfully fresh and effortlessly cool. In their first entirely original release, BadBadNotGood’s III is versatile and fits perfectly as both backing mood music or important pump-up jams, depending on your mood. Barely graduates of Humber College’s jazz program, the future is bright for BadBadNotGood.

Bahamas – Bahamas is Afie

With every passing Bahamas record, Afie Jurvanen aka Bahamas is naturally progressing into a major star. Bahamas is Afie is Jurvanen’s most candid record to date and wraps up everything good that Jurvanen has going for him, gifted guitar player, silky smooth voice, a lot of soul, into a timeless third record.

Jennifer Castle – Pink City 

Jennifer Castle’s Pink City is an honest and emotionally complex record that feels both intellectually challenging and, somehow, serene. It’s as if Castle, through addressing the contemporary issues that effect both her and her friends, creates a comfortable clarity that allows Pink City to be the perfect getaway. Extra praise to Jennifer Castle for brilliantly questioning Joni Mitchell comparisons.

Olivier Clements & Dissonant Histories – S/T 

Aidan Knight and the Friendly Friends member Olivier Clements’ debut album is one that I continually turned to throughout 2014. Clements and the rest of his octet have blended a more traditional jazz style with a folk rock sound not unlike that of Knight’s for a beautiful record that is captivating.

Two jazz (ish) albums on my list?! Must be a sign of things to come.

The Lonely Parade – Sheer Luxury 

All of my late teenage angst is rolled up into Sheer Luxury. The DIY debut album from this young Peterborough trio is reckless, frank, and downright badass. In a punk/garage rock style, The Lonely Parade are clever musicians (who knew a song about the unwanted advances your mom received could be such a hit?) who should be viewed as an inspiration for many young musicians. I’m rooting for you guys!

Hey Rosetta! – Second Sight

Hey Rosetta! is a band that continually churns out records that will never age. Timeless and intricately arranged songs that fill your mind and body with what I will classify here as “the good stuff.” Lead singer Tim Baker is an underrated mastermind.

Tanya Tagaq – Animism 

A mind-altering, soul-bending, politically important record from an incredible talent. See my Polaris Prize essay for more reasons why this record is so powerful.

Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust 

I have always considered myself to be a casual fan of Chad VanGaalen, unlike say, Michael, but VanGaalen’s Shrink Dust threw me over to a full-fledge believer. Shrink Dust is imaginative, complex, and a mix between folk and wonderful experimental weirdness. VanGaalen’s has this ability to cast emotionally rich lyrics amongst the compelling instrumental soundscape for an incredible effect.

The Weather Station – What Am I Going To Do With Everything I Know

For those who know me, The Weather Station’s 2011 record All of it was Mine is one of my all-time favourites. Tamara Lindeman’s (The Weather Station) long awaited follow-up, the EP What Am I Going To Do With Everything I Know, surpassed my expectations of what could come after such a brilliant record. Done in hushed folk tones, Lindeman’s lyrics are intricate, delicate, and make for some exceptionally crafted folk music.

P.S. After hearing a few songs from her forthcoming record Loyalty at the EP’s release show in Toronto, I am confident in saying: check back here next year to see Loyalty on 2015’s top ten list.

Fangirling over.

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Review – “Self Titled Debut Album” – Soda Pony

reviewed by Laura Stanley a0401238752_2

“Fuck you, you’re not my friend! Fuck you, you’re not my friend!” These explosive and expletive first lines from Soda Pony’s standout song “Friendship” were somewhat of an anthem for me this past summer. Yes, it’s a bit of an unusual lyric to rally around but this passionate tune with clever Titanic-like descriptions of a sinking (friend)ship jumps from your speakers (watch a live performance below) and into your friendless and flustered little heart. It’s easy to call it one of the best songs from 2014.

The amusing qualities of “Friendship” do not lie just with this one vessel. Whitehorse’s Aiden Tentrees and Patrick Hamilton as a band are, foremost, fun. With their unique brand of synth/garage rock, they are another example of a duo that stretches the expectations and abilities of a two person band. They tag team on vocal duty, Hamilton plays bass synthesizers and percussion usually simultaneous, and Tentrees wields a keyboard and distorted guitar and has the propensity to launch into blistering guitar solos. All together it makes for a refreshingly creative outburst of sound.

Each song from Soda Pony’s (a subtle nod to The Outsiders?) Self Titled Debut Album is jammed with wit and imaginative tales of adventure, love, and a colourful cast of characters. Some noteworthy character based tunes include the comic book inspired “Archie,” complete with obvious yet great lines like, “the jalopy stopped so we walked to Pop’s, the soda shop,” and “Astronaut” which is about a trouble former space cadet and is outfitted  with jittery, retro sci-fi sound effects.

Throughout Self Titled Debut Album, Soda Pony has moveable jams like the spirited “Stagecoach Robbery,” one of the more melodious of the ten song outfit, or the hilarious “Dolly.” The other side to the record is song with a more relaxed beat like “Green Queens” and “Ponies Again” which, thanks to its pedal steel ending, sounds more country than it actually should be classified, and gets these Soda Ponies a little sentimental.

Self Titled Debut Album is a treasure trove of great hits. Keep your eyes and ears pointed up North and get ready for the arrival of Soda Pony.

Top Track: “Friendship”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Halfsleeper” – David Backshell

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

backshell

A record of North American strangeness: that’s how I’d sell David Backshell’s new EP, Halfsleeper. It’s a somnambulist of a recording, weaving through the shadows of the internet before its new year’s awakening, in the first days of 2015.

The four tracks on Halfsleeper could easily be slapped around with the names of other performers: a little artist A here, a little of artist B’s strumming style there; that’s how we organize singer songwriters most typically isn’t it? It’s easier to judge someone like Backshell if we can dress him up as someone we know. After all, authors are just organizational devices, tools to find our way through the darkness of stories, songs, and riddles. But the real marvel of these new tracks by Backshell is that he finds himself in a new playground, with very few children joining him on the swing set.

The songs are long as a rule, stretching out past the borders of pop land, but never terrorizing the listener with classical folk structures (how many verses did you write about Henry Lee!?!) Tools at hand include: a guitar, a shaker, two vocals, a fiddle, and some odds and sods. Not much to work with, right? Well, as Backshell demonstrates in four delicately constructed outpourings, it’s all about the order in which you broadcast your several elements: layering is key, as he demonstrates in the opening track, “Iodine.”

The song begins with just a scrap of percussion and the regular vocal/guitar tag team; but then a transformation occurs, and blues slide licks latch on to the sound, bringing with them arching duo vocals, mouth harp, and rising fiddle parts. The form never forces a frame on the emotional path of the song — an underworld chant, forecasting supernatural touch and mundane contradictions — but rather, the form is swept up in the path of the story, the two seemingly interlocked in perfect harmony, telling the story with equal footing. It’s a whopper of an opening track.

Backshell often threatens cliché — as in “Rainmaker,” when the line “I spin like dust in the wind” alludes to one too many power ballads — but always comes away with something subtler: “rain like a wheel that’s turning me.” It’s this flirting with inherited language, but never falling victim to the full brunt of its force, that makes the lyrics on Halfsleeper stand out. Backshell refuses to let comfortable devices tell his stories for him, and while not entirely original, the content finds new ways to entertain.

This is a wonderful direction for Backshell: Halfsleeper is a rich and interesting collection of recordings that swell as the ears listen attentively. I am only left wishing there were more to engage with. I guess that’s the ultimate compliment to an enticing group of songs.

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Top Tracks: “Iodine” , “Wetwired”

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