Review – “Scavenger” – Fleece

reviewed by Elysse Cloma

Scavenger album artworkJason McGerr (Death Cab For Cutie’s drummer) once formulated an equation that attention-grabbing bands seem to follow, which is a combination of two things: “a musical vocabulary that’s challenging yet accessible, and a bold way of presenting it”. It’s a statement that seems to apply to bands like BADBADNOTGOOD, who emerged at just the right time and make music that’s both accessible and innovative. BADBADNOTGOOD takes jazz and presents it in an invigorating blend of hip-hop and post-rock. In a similar vein, Montreal band Fleece seems to be taking a well-informed musical vocabulary and presenting it in a bold way on Scavenger. While Scavenger is certainly a reflection of the psychedelic wave in indie music, it’s also exceptionally refreshing.

Fleece’s music is undeniably grunge rock. In particular, the songs “Chocolate Milk” and “Wake and Bake” showcase their noisy, distorted guitar-driven sound, which is dissonant at times. What’s great about Scavenger, though, is that the Do-It-Yourself amateur elements of grunge are absent from the music. The hard guitar is softened by a melodic electric piano, and balanced with clean drumming. The songs are artful tunes with a jazz polish. Tracks like “Demanding” stand on the intersections of math rock and jazz, with a fervent saxophone solo and crisp instrumentals. Their jazz chops are also put to use on “Gabe’s Song”, which has a stellar horn section, while “CIA” is a relaxed blues tune with a climatic rock instrumental section. With a healthy level of experimentation, variety, and cohesion, Fleece takes grunge and allows it to transform into something original.

Top Tracks: “Demanding”; “Wake and Bake”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent)

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Review – “autumn still” – autumn still

reviewed by Laura Stanleya3196572679_2 

Like their name suggests, a stillness reigns over autumn still’s self-titled EP. The polyphonic murmurings from the Winnipeg band are calm and are neither rushed or have a clear objective in mind. They wander and wonder for long stretches of time, leaving you to do the same.

Clocking in at over five and a half minutes, “Long Terms” has the band moving through various sounding sections, each more urgent than the last. Consistently rooted in a pop mentality, the verses are light, vocals are nicely passed off between Bethany Swanson and Trevor Graumann, and the chorus, though simple, is autumn still at its most memorable. In the song’s final two minutes, Graumann transitions between a more gruff repetition of the line “this is what you call your leisure” and, revealing another side of the band, a surprisingly sizeable guitar solo that ends “Long Terms.” 

“Bartholomew” is a subdued song through and through. With Swanson taking over the majority of the vocal duties, “Bartholomew” is a soft collection of guitars and brightly hummed verses which really illustrate the EP’s search for tranquility.

autumn still perk up again in the EP’s final song, “Our Last.” Thanks to an upbeat piano part pushing the song forward and, despite the darker lyrics, (the line “waiting for something that will drag you down/you’re taken by the tide” sticks out) the EP’s final song is lively. Perhaps this last burst of energy symbolizes how difficult it is to actually become still. 

autumn still’s EP offer us three hushed and humble songs and the seeds for a promising upcoming full length record.

Top Track: “Long Terms”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Unreal” – James Irwin

UNREALreviewed by Michael Thomas

The line between genres has become so blurred that to call James Irwin “electro-folk” or some other name would do his music a great disservice. Sure, the way he talks about historical figures like Sam Cooke might suggest his songs could be played on acoustic guitar around a campfire, and the music of Unreal has a lot of synthesizers in it, but let’s just say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Irwin has effectively carved out a niche. While Western Transport, his debut album, saw a lot of dependence on the old acoustic guitar, Unreal throws any rules of composition out the window.

Songs like “Siberia China” and “Sahra” almost harken back to the days of his debut, but even they become something new with the strength of his backing band. “Siberia China” features some ghostly wails and synths in the background, making it a surprisingly warm number. and after the wonderful line “You’re always so happy on the first day it snows” the music gets a little more jagged. “Sahra” is the perfect way to draw the album to a close, with its lullaby quality.

But for every lower-tempo song there’s one that ups the energy. “Michigan Miami” is a folk song in rock’s clothing, with crunchier guitars and pounding drums (though it’s hard not to hear this song without thinking of “I Melt With You“). “Walls Around Nothing” is deliciously adventurous in its guitar-and-sax-based melody that gets more majestic as the sax gets it time to shine. Every word sounds that much more powerful, like “I think I know how to touch you now.”

Some of the songs are meditations on a theme. “Do You Know Who Shot Sam?” was inspired by the death of the legendary Sam Cooke, as Irwin explained at his Toronto release show. “A Wave is a Wild Thing” is all about just letting things go. The acoustic guitar and big synths are the anchors here, and it eventually builds to big lines like “I thought often of death, now it’s the last thing on my mind.”

The crown jewel of the album is undoubtedly its opener, as well as a single Irwin released last year, “Everything Passed Me By.” The smooth synth-and-sax melody will immediately wedge itself in your head, and his stream-of-consciousness lyrics about being just one step behind are infinitely relatable.

At nine songs, the album packs enough temptation to leave listeners coming back for multiple helpings.

Top Tracks: “Everything Passed Me By”; “Walls Around Nothing”

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

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Review – “The New Wild” – The New Wild

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis a2125942651_2

It’s hard to say if two brothers going official with their basement jam sessions constitutes the birth of a young band marking it’s almost-one year anniversary with a debut EP, or if, by virtue of having been each other’s default sounding board for years, the band could have technically started much earlier.

Officially, at least, The New Wild is just taking off—with a premature release of their digital album as they waited for physical copies to hit the streets. The self-title effort is four messy, grungy spurts of rock as brothers Sean and Daniel Guezen make like inspiration Cannon Bros. and swap turns on drums and guitar instead of forcing each other to choose.

There’s something just a little bit old school about the brothers’ sound, even as it mixes in the kind of vocal effects that are becoming a staple of Canada’s garage grunge rock. When the duo let loose on “Dallas,” the song leaps out of its confines into the heady rocker days of yore.

“No Cuts,” which switches from brother Dan on the mic to Sean, isn’t quite as in your face. Dark and stripped down, it’s the reverberating flourish on the strings that carry the punch on this track and give the brothers a chance to show off their differences almost right off the bat. Devil imagery and Daniel’s haunting harmonies give the track an eerie, mesmerizing aura that ends up being a momentary breather before Daniel returns to the foreground on “Wail,” which lives up to its name, to say the least.

The introductory note of “Play It By Fear” has all the makings of a P.S. I Love You track as Sean and Daniel swap out once again, but the song veers off in its own direction—true to the brothers’ ethos of creating their own music instead of looking to their wide range of influences. It’s also the closest the brothers get on the EP to fully fusing their sounds, as Sean delivers his steady, nearly monotone vocals with Daniel’s flair for the crescendo giving the finale a hefty amount of punch.

Despite the rather peaceful appearance of their album cover (and possibly their name), The New Wild is so far making its mark as something far louder and grittier. There’s a nice fusion of aesthetics at work though—tying in some of Daniel’s folk history in other Winnipeg bands, nodding back at the greats and rubbing elbows with current fads. It’s the kind of thing made possible by the brother’s inability to simply divide and conquer the instrumentation—a nice bit of back and forth that adds the element of surprise and gives The New Wild plenty of room to roam.

Top Track: “Play It By Fear”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Truce” – ACAB Rocky

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

ACAB

ACAB Rocky is Victorian — not in the sense that they recreate the medieval world in fits of opium-fuelled glee, but in the sense that their geography constitutes a large island on the West Coast. I don’t think they go in for knights and chivalry — though the next time they’re in town, I’ll invite them out to Medieval Times, just to be sure. These gifted young musicians go in for smooth rock tunes, with a rootsy turn, gifted through the churning ocean of internet releases. The new EP, six tracks of devotion and careful sculpting, are about to join the wave of 2015.

From the first crashing chords of “Matches,” you can tell the EP is sophisticated. There is a quality of recording present that will intrigue many ears. Distance is built into the recordings — space and placement belying intense planning. Many moments focus on the simple, soft-spoken vocals and acoustic guitar of Sam Wells; just as many instances plunge the listener into full out jamming.

The ACAB band certainly approaches things from unforseen directions on the new EP. “Jane” is both old timey and krautrock, something very different from anything I’ve heard before. A white wash of fuzz clears out any misogynist conceptions, leaving the song a blank slate of MUSIC, pushing beyond the sentiments that would work to drag it down. The usual song about a girl format is not something these guys are interested in, unless it’s just to show off how much better they can do it than anybody else. The song in the two spot, “Nursery,” echoes with Wilcoesque lead guitar work and haunting, regretful lyrics, stretching back into the past. The shoegaze vibe is strong with these ones.

The EP is a tightly wound piece of copper wire, ready to conduct all the electric attention of its audience. “Backwoods” is a favourite, as it’s filled with the kind of chugging, dirty chords that speak to the MC5 fan in us all. The jams kicked out by this band are subdued, sure, but just as intense as any sludge-thrash-Robfordcore band you can name. The sighs and distant snare hits in “Backwoods” speak volumes of story, plotting out the night air, the couch fibres, and the touch that exists between the characters in the story. 3:45 just isn’t enough: the ACAB guys left me wanting more.

This is not the first release by ACAB Rocky. The band has been busy putting out singles and cassettes like any self-respecting workaholics in the business of indie music in this age. But there is a step forward being made here to a significant degree. The three band members have made a commitment to their music: to treat it like a serious work of art, and to present it to people with appropriate gravitas. Hacktivism Records is putting out the EP February 2nd. Watch it drop and pick it up.

Top Tracks: “Jane” ; “Backwoods”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent)

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James Irwin w/ L CON @ Wavelength Pop-Up

by Michael Thomas

Just two days into Wavelength’s pop-up gallery at Huntclub, the idea already looks like it’s going to be a big success. After the riotous opening with Zoo Owl and Petra Glynt on Thursday, Friday night got a little more subdued—but no less compelling.

L CON

L CON

Opening the night was L CON, the other project featuring the uber-talented Lisa Conway of Del Bel. Her set, as it would turn out, was composed of entirely new songs, but even after admitting she was nervous, Conway and her two bandmates still made quite an impact.

The centrepiece of L CON is Conway’s pronounced vocals and enigmatic songwriting. How that manifests seems to change from song to song. Some go an eerie route, all low guitar notes and “ahhs,” while others place more emphasis on electronics to get the audience moving. The opening song had Conway and Mary Margaret Wood showing off some great group vocals, and the three band members were constantly shifting instruments and places.

Conway’s deadpan stage banter also made her quite endearing—after saying that music is “all about being afraid,” she said “This next song is about the birth of the world. Pretty heavy.”

James Irwin

James Irwin

It was a particularly special night for James Irwin; it was his CD release show and it seemed like a ton of his family and friends were there for it. His music is almost indescribable, embracing electronic sounds and poppy rhythms but with lyrics that could also accompany the wail of pedal steel.

His set, naturally, leaned on his new album UNREAL, which is already an early contender for one of the year’s best albums. Coupled with some hilarious stage banter, it made for quite the excellent show. Songs like “Did You Hear Who Shot Sam?” (which was inspired by Sam Cooke and Otis Redding) showed off the softer, slower side, with just a sprinkling of keys and gentle guitars. Meanwhile songs like “Michigan Miami” showed the band could almost be a rock band if they wanted.

Irwin hit a home run with the final three songs of the set, the first two which involved him moving away from his guitar and moving around with his microphone. The smooth sounds of “Everything Passed Me By”  got the whole crowd moving, and “Walls Around Nothing” kept the energy up. He effectively drew his set to a close with the lullaby-ish “Sahra.”

Irwin and L CON were a match made in heaven.

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Audible/Visual Hoots: Beams, Rococode, Castle If and more

Rococode's "Banks" cover art

Rococode’s “Banks” cover art

Beams – The Gutters & the Glass

(Stream available via Exclaim!)

Beams’ first album had a sense of woozy whimsy, but with the band’s latest release, there’s definitely a sense of growing darkness while still in line with the voice the band has cultivated.  There’s an ominous quality to the bass-and-banjo-driven opening to “The Way We Run,” but that’s only the beginning of a constantly-shifting song. The song reaches an interesting climax midway with the lyric: “I am sorry if my silence made you feel like you couldn’t talk.” The song then gets a little sunnier as Britpop guitars wash away that sinking feeling.

“Black Shadow” is a little closer to the Beams of old, but still pulses with a newfound confidence. The song moves in peaks and valleys, from musically-busy sections, complete with guitar, banjo and drums into quieter sections with a hint of glockenspiel and brushes of drums. The song’s chorus also hints at the band’s darker direction: amid crystalline vocal harmonies is the sense that something big is about to happen.

Rococode – “Banks”

There’s a sense of longing, maybe loneliness, to the latest video from Vancouver’s Rococode. “Banks” is a synth- and bass-heavy song that gives the listener plenty of room to appreciate the beautiful vocals from Laura Smith and Andrew Braun. The video explores a group of people who mostly seem to want something more—an older man looks longingly out the window, a girl lies on the floor, no doubt thinking about a painful memory. As the scenes continue, eventually the focus changes to an open field, where a group of people stare at a strange white structure.

The video is the first video effort from Fivethousand Fingers (Eli Horn and Lexane Rosseau), who collaborate visually on all of Rococode’s endeavours.

Castle If – “Sector 03″/”The Surge”

Jess Forrest’s synth project Castle If is hypnotic. She lures listeners into a trance with her small cavalcade of electronics, then suddenly makes them question everything. The latest from the icy Castle is this two-part video series shot at the Mendel Art Gallery, and directed by Lisa Folkerson. “Sector 03″ is a sprawling song but doesn’t feel like it goes on forever despite the runtime. Forrest slowly adds bits in—a metronome-style backing beat, the odd flourish of synth, both modded and unmodded vocals—and watching it all come together on video is fascinating. Despite the calm tempo, Forrest is always moving, and the video gets downright weird when her face suddenly appears on screen.

The video for “The Surge” gets a bit more unhinged, breaking up the performance bits with more natural scenery and a lot more of Forrest on her own, singing the words. The song itself is a little more upbeat, and the video capitalizes on the faster tempo to create something truly disorienting. These two songs are a sneak peek at Castle If’s upcoming Sector 03 sci-fi concept album, and it’s a very promising start.

Pale Eyes – “Philosophka”

Toronto’s Pale Eyes continue their reign of electronic dominance with a simple but effective new video. Featuring Saralyn and Laurieann Stevens, dancers who occasionally accompany the band for live performances, the frantic song comes to life and just might need to come with a seizure warning. While the act’s absurdly-tall Benjamin McCarthy performs the song (just try to leave this video with “Don’t fuck me over” not struck in your head), the dancers strike increasingly impressive poses as the screen begins to flash.

Mulligrub – “Sprite Zero” 

Mulligrub, the band behind two of my (Laura’s) favourite songs from 2014, are back teasing us with another song that will appear on their upcoming full-length record. “Sprite Zero” is a gritty and dispirited number with Kelly Campbell’s distinctive vocals conveying staggering emotion. Paired with a DIY video featuring stuffed animals drinking and doing drugs, “Sprite Zero” is a trip. For those who fear sock-puppets and/or are convinced that stuffed animals can read your mind, I warn you this video is scary.

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Review – “Darling Cora EP” – Darling Cora

reviewed by Anna Alger

Newcomer to the Toronto scene, Darling Cora, sings and strums her way into our hearts and heads on her self-titled EP. Her love of vibrato and intricate instrumentation combine to create enveloping songs that are equal parts warm and cool.

Breezy indie rock opens the EP, Darling Cora’s vocals warbling along a meandering melodic path in “Charade.” Her sound recalls that of Jeff Buckley’s album, Grace, a certainly promising debut. Next is “After Midnight,” a dejected track featuring acoustic guitar and laidback instrumentation. “Two Lovers” features a stripped back introduction that puts focus on the vocals, a welcome change from the previous two songs.

“Three Pennies Falling” shows how piercing Darling Cora’s vocals can be, the music understated, giving her voice room to soar. Startlingly beautiful is closing song, “Sugar.” The strength in this EP truly lies in the moments where Darling Cora’s voice takes centre stage – and the instrumentation in “Sugar” does so for much of the song, complimenting her vocal tone.

The haunting quality of Darling Cora’s vocals combined with the sometimes sunnier music on her debut EP draws listeners in, honest and exposed sound capturing her view of the world within this snapshot. There is a delicacy to Darling Cora’s music which sits upon a bed of strength. I am excited to hear her continue to balance these two elements.

Darling Cora EP is available now via Bandcamp.

Top Tracks: “Three Pennies Falling,” “Sugar”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “You Erased Me From Your World (When You Drew Her In)” – Kay Berkel

reviewed by Laura Stanley a1899952896_2

The tangled web of musicians connected to former Attack in Black-er, City and Colour member, and current country crooner, Daniel Romano continues to grow. As the guy who wore a rhinestone Nudie suit on the cover of his latest record because why the hell not, Romano is a young voice helping to start a new chapter in a traditional country-western genre. With the help of his friends, Romano is expanding his homage to country classics.

With Romano providing the lyrics and Kay Berkel, member of Romano’s touring band the Trilliums and sister of haunt-folk musician Jenny Berkel, supplying the vocals, You Erased Me From Your World (When You Drew Her In) is yes, a display of down-trodden country songs but it is also exciting evidence that the pair can make such sweet music together.

You Erased Me is a natural addition to Romano’s Come Cry With Me. The EP is comprised of tales about, love, loneliness and heartbreak not unlike those heard in Romano’s album but what prevents you from simply throwing on Come Cry With Me, again, is Berkel’s warm voice providing a new spin on Romano’s narratives.

Though Romano’s drawl pops up now and again, Berkel’s rich vocal performance is the shining star here. Purposely alternating between sweet and bitter, hopeful and filled with sadness, Berkel holds Romano’s lyrics in her hands and moulds them into her own. In “I’m Convincing Me,” Berkel injects a needed spirit in a tale of violence while in “You Erased Me From Your World (When You Drew Her In),” she sings with both conviction and sorrow for two songs destined to satisfy your blues.

Amongst the steady beat of “Diamonds and Dogs,” Berkel sings of “driving through hurricane weather, searching for diamonds and dogs.” While I’m tempted to make a reference to Bowie’s Diamond Dogs record, these creative lyrics most likely speak to the craving we all get to settle down with someone (diamonds) and get a whole bunch of dogs.

Beautifully composed with timeless lyrics, it’s songs like the “If Words Can’t Express It,” that make listeners bow down to the King of Mosey and laugh in the face of contemporary country. In one last aching exhalation, Berkel sings, “if you’re looking for someone to tell you they love you, honey, I do. It has always been me” for a convincing, to put it mildly, EP closer.

Throw it on, get to crying.

Top Track: “If Words Can’t Express It”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Sometimes Chicken, Sometimes Feathers” – Graham Nicholas

Graham2_NoLinesreviewed by Michael Thomas

Graham Nicholas may have been onto something when he released an EP in 2013 that had “bedtime stories” in its title. Despite this full-length album’s fowl-referencing name, there’s that same sense of warmth and good feelings that the previous EP evoke.

Indeed, the album shares a bit of DNA with Ruby, including the pristine “Penny,” with all its pretty vocalizations, and “Wandering Angel,” whose pedal steel wail leads into a lovely opening line: “Well your daddy was a straight shooter/And I guess that makes you a son of a gun.”

But there’s also a real sense that Nicholas is writing about living, breathing, characters, each pining for the little bit of love that will make them whole again. But to counterbalance the wistful folk tales there’s plenty of joy, and the album’s title track seems to speak directly to the fact that life can suck, but hey, it can be good too.

That sense of real warmth to songs both joyous and sad is owed at least part to producer Aaron Comeau (also a player on the album), who has a magic touch when it comes to folk and country records. And with Raven Shields providing lovely backing vocals, there’s always someone for Nicholas to play off of.

“Angel and the Monkey” and “Heart, Please Forgive Me” both feature narrators whose love has gone forever. While the narrator of the former seems to be aware that there are steps he could take to try to get his lover back, the latter’s narrator seems trapped in his own toxic thoughts.

An interesting twist on the lonely lover comes in “Bluebird,” a decidedly muted song which features just Nicholas and Shields’ vocals and a muted guitar for most of it. In it, a bluebird’s mournful song reminds him of a lost lover, but when the lover returns, the bird disappears and he longs to hear its song again.

The more joyful songs are a nice change, like the delightful opener “Roll Me Up,” which features some psychedelic-sounding organ and electric guitar. It completely changes the mood of what would be an otherwise mournful ballad. And let’s not forget “Sunday Kinda Love,” a folk-rocking vocal back-and-forth about a couple who save their real loving for Sundays. It escalates to another level as Nicholas and Shields trade innuendos, like “If you melt my butter I’ll whip your cream/I’ll flap your jacks, you know what I mean.”

It all comes to a happy ending with, er, “Happy Ending,” starting off simply before building into a rollicking number with a whole lot of fiddle. It’ll leave listeners all warm and fuzzy, just like the album as a whole.

Top Tracks: “Roll Me Up”; “Sunday Kinda Love”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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