Review – “Future States EP” – Future States

reviewed by Anna Alger

Montreal indie rock band Future States have released their self-titled EP, which was recorded at St. Matthew’s Church in Timmins, Ontario. The five piece have toured the album around southern Ontario since forming about a year ago, bringing their unique blend of chamber pop and indie rock to the public.

Beginning with “Bad Signs,” the band’s sound recalls that of fellow Quebecers Sam Roberts Band. Sweet harmonizing and finger picked guitar fills out the verses, whereas the drums take precedence in the chorus. A chilled out, contemplative sound is prominent in this song.

By the second track, “Animals,” the band picks up the tempo. Tenderly sung vocals are accented by piano and a strong drum beat. Even this far into the EP, it is clear that this band loves adding little flourishes and bits of colour to their music, and in doing so they keep their songs interesting. An off kilter piano solo that almost sounds a little ragtime-y is representative of that colour in this “Animals.”

“Sleepwalker” rolls along as a brisk indie rock number. A little lo-fi, but with chiming guitar lines coming through clearly, the song is warm and intriguing. Darker sounds come out at the bridge, featuring organ and a bubbling, anticipatory guitar line. Next is “Takman,”an introspective, laid back track. Ending with “Sequin Sun,” which features Tamara Sandor’s vocals and drums reminiscent of fellow Montrealers Arcade Fire, the band wraps up this window into their perspective: one full of play and creativity that melds to form a unique, full sound.

Future States’ self titled debut EP is a fun exploration of their pleasing, melody driven sound. Combining found sound, horns, the instruments of classic rock ‘n’ roll, and soft understated vocals, this new band is worth keeping an eye on.

Future States EP is available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.

Top Tracks: “Animals” “Sleepwalker”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Second Sight” – Hey Rosetta!

reviewed by Laura Stanley hey12

Hey Rosetta!’s lead singer and songwriter Tim Baker has a knack for summarizing everything that’s going on around you. Personal struggles, ongoing news stories, or whatever is causing the highs and lows of life, Baker crafts all of these feelings into complex songs. They are anthemic and universal. Paired with the diverse soundscapes created by the other talented band members, the music of Hey Rosetta! has a power that not many bands posses. In this their fourth album, it seems very appropriate that another batch of songs that goes beyond normal sensory contact be called Second Sight.

Second Sight is not a bold change for the band but rather a continuation of what the band does best. The band swings from lush string sections (Kinley Dowling, Romesh Thavanathan), upbeat pop-infused rock numbers (Adam Hogan, Phil Maloney, Josh Ward) and sombre piano driven songs that leave you breathless.

With ease, “Soft Offering (For the Oft Suffering)” welcomes you to Second Sight thanks to its melodious sounds and a familiarly complex writing style. In a continuation of the familiar, “Gold Teeth” is a great continuation of Seeds’ standout song “Welcome.” In “the song of your birth,” “Gold Teeth” matches a realistic take of the world with an unembellished vocal and instrumental delivery that creates a vivid illustration of the world.

Perhaps my tendencies this year to match my melancholic twenty-something woes to the music I am listening to is the reason why I think “Dream” and “What Arrows” are the two standouts from Second Sight. As the album’s longest song, “What Arrows’” is not flashy with memorable, per se, pop riffs but instead rest quietly on your chest. A song about connecting as a result of “it” (whatever it may be), “it curves in through the weather, it’s coming from above and it brought us together.” It’s a powerful thing. 

In a slow build, for a song that’s under four minutes, “Dream” fills out to an instrumentally and vocally complex offering that’s pushed even further as a result of an always catchy “ooh” inclusion. Those bright spots aside, Baker’s lyrics will touch those who struggle to remain confident but still hope for the best. The following verse needs to stand on its own to show this:

who says we can’t. who says we can’t, who says we shouldn’t
who says we couldn’t, make it just like we love it
why can’t we, just like a dream?

The experimentation from Hey Rosetta! in Second Sight comes only briefly but is noteworthy.  Songs like “Kintsukuroi” and “Neon Beyond” err on a more “mainstream” sound for the band and include some instrumentation variation not quite heard before. “Kintsukuroi” sunny guitar riff throughout is fresh and “Neon Beyond”’s moveable and percussion heavy verses is getting the song compared to a Vampire Weekend creation. 

In the latter half of the record, “Cathedral Bells” shows an acoustic and more minimal side of the band, not unlike “Bandages”, while “Alcatraz” is another slow burner but this time a symphony-like accompaniment carries Baker’s vocals to a far off place.  

Although it lacks the vitality of Seeds, Second Sight keeps the powerful force that is Hey Rosetta! going. 

Top Tracks: “Dream,” “What Arrows”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Backseat Bingo” – KIM GRAY

“Why is Red?” asks KIM GRAY on his solo project Backseat Bingo. The project, recorded Kim Gray Album Coverby Drew from Dead Ghosts, is written and performed by Trevor Kim Gray (of Skinny Kids), with some help from Skinny Kids bandmate Nicholas Creamore on drums. Available for streaming, pre-order, and digital download on Bandcamp, the 7” vinyl is set to release December 15th on Resurrection Records.

Backseat Bingo is the key to every indie lover’s heart. KIM GRAY wants to take us on dates, so he’s serenading us with a handful of romantic doo-wop garage pop songs. His short, mid-tempo tracks about love employ doo-wop techniques to make us swoon. Backseat Bingo is four songs of tried and true oldies chord progressions on an even-tempered guitar, with heavy bass, modest backing vocals, and surf pop beats. Trevor Kim Gray has the prototypical 50s pop male lead voice. The track “Frank Sinatra” best exemplifies the KIM GRAY sound, with its irresistible clap-along chorus and completely relaxed feel – perfect to unwind to.

While I could listen to KIM GRAY’s hunky-dory sound all day, the songs on Backseat Bingo are unsurprising. They feel like ideas for songs that plateau quickly and end abruptly. The bass line on “Why Is Red?” carries an otherwise dull song that seems to blend with the rest of the tracks on Backseat Bingo. Also, just when you’re convinced that “Why Is Red?” is its own unique song, it ends suddenly. “Slow Medication” has a faster tempo, but is also brief and fleeting. There’s nothing particularly memorable or distinct about KIM GRAY’S songs, save for their names.

KIM GRAY’s Backseat Bingo is like an impossible crush: promising, yet disappointing. It sounds great, but my hopes are dashed when it falls short in terms of variety and song structure. Granted, there are only four songs on Backseat Bingo, but it’s worth a listen if you like musing about hipster dreamboat crushes, like Mac DeMarco, Frankie Cosmos, or Karen O.

Top Tracks: “Frank Sinatra”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Royal Canoe w/ The Elwins & Language-Arts @ Lee’s Palace

by Michael Thomas

Royal Canoe seems to be developing a habit of playing strange bills at Lee’s Palace. But unlike their bill with the Sadies last year, the combination of the Winnipeg superstars with The Elwins and Language-Arts just worked.

Language-Arts

Language-Arts

It’s always nice when an opener is welcomed with open arms; such was the treatment for literary-pop band Language-Arts. The standard rock instruments + keyboards setup worked well to highlight vocalist Kristen Cudmore, who’s infectiously happy personality shone in her delivery as well as her stage banter.

In between long jams of meticulously precise percussion, dreamy keys and occasionally psychedelic guitars that made up the songs, Cudmore expounded on a slew of topics from stained clothing to bodily functions to musical notation jokes to an encouraging crowd.

Even when the instruments failed (particularly so in the closing number) the bands undeniable chemistry kept the charming atmosphere going for the frontrunners in the “Nicest band in the world” competition, the Elwins.

The Elwins

The Elwins

Most bands take a few seconds, maybe a deep breath or two, before beginning their sets. This is not the case with The Elwins. The recent Hidden Pony signings seemed to take about less than a second to pick up their instruments and launch into their first song.

Energetic doesn’t even begin to describe this band, who were full-out clapping and singing in harmony for their first song. The energy never dissipated, and though the set was largely composed of songs from their upcoming album (out early next year?) the audience was more than happy to oblige them.

The guys’ sunny personalities matched the brightness of their sunny pop, and as a result it wasn’t too hard to get the audience to sing and clap along. Shortly after whipping out their cover of Beyonce’s “Countdown” it was their last tune, “So Down Low.” Tragically, vocals cut out with about a minute left. They still made it work.

Royal Canoe

Royal Canoe

And finally, I’ll just come out and say it—I’ve now seen Royal Canoe enough times to say without hesitation that they are one of Canada’s best bands right now, and one of the few bands with a well-deserved success story. It’s rare that the public embraces such dense and complex music as Royal Canoe’s Today We’re Believers but that’s exactly what Toronto did.

Watching Royal Canoe live is like peering into a detailed machine. How many times did Derek Allard and Michael Jordan (no relation to the basketball player) switch sides on percussion? How many guitars did Bucky Driedger play in total? How many beads of sweat fell from Matt Peters? These are all questions without definitive answers.

The set of course was Believers heavy, starting with the title track before transitioning into the clap-along “Hold Onto the Metal.” The energy of “Bathtubs” was explosive, the hip-hop flavour of “Button Fumbla” got people grooving, as did “Stemming” and “Just Enough.” The band even threw in Extended Play gem “Bloodrush” and later one of their version of the Beck Song Reader number “We All Wear Cloaks,” giving the song a double-shot of Royal Canoe’s signature excellence.

With the audience along for the ride every step of the way, Royal Canoe ended their set only to return a minute later to raucous applause to play “Show Me Your Eyes” followed by “Nightcrawlin.”

It was a strange bill but a wonderful mix—suffice to say Toronto will welcome these bands again, no questions asked.

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Review – “SXD_EP” – Saxsyndrum

SXD_EPreviewed by Michael Thomas

The ever-occupied Saxsyndrum have pulled an OutKast with their new EP on Art Not Love. As the band’s name implies, saxophone and percussion are the two main instruments featured in their music, as played by David Switchenko and Nick Schofield, respectively, just as Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s opposing forces make OutKast a whole.

In 2003, OutKast released Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, with one album basically being Big Boi’s and the other being Andre’s. SXD_EP is a similar idea — one half of the EP is based on saxophone samples while the other half is percussion. But where Big Boi and Andre 3000 had very different styles, Switchenko and Schofield have an electronic barrage that ties them together.

While the two instruments working together creates wonders (and even more wonders remixed), SXD_EP shows that they can be equally compelling on their own. Switchenko’s tenor sax creates a push and pull on the first half of the album. The deeper sounds of the sax add a sense of foreboding in opener “Maceonectar” contrasted by the bright and pulsating synths that accompany it.

“Tah Hum” acts sort of like a bridge in this half of the EP, featuring long, drawn-sax notes with the faintest hum of percussive electronics before transitioning into the craziness of “Yardbird Flutter,” a song that probably wouldn’t have felt out-of-place on Future Circus.

Schofield has the reins for the EP’s other half, which takes on a decidedly different tone. Here the percussion and electronics are less distinguishable, and the result is a rainforest of varied sounds, from bells to light drum taps to punchy synths, as first introduced by “Ararchnamis.”

“Lac Marsan” by comparison takes it easy, with little drum rolls that bring to mind the sound of rippling water. Its “calmness” eventually comes unraveled, just in time for “Zonko,” the strongest of the three tracks. It is constantly shifting between spooky and soothing.

Saxsyndrum will never cease to be interesting, and splitting themselves in half, so to speak, was an unexpected trick that makes SXD_EP work so well. What they’ll do next is really anyone’s guess.

SXD_EP will be out on November 4, 2014.

Top Tracks: “Maceonectar”; “Zonko”

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

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One-on-One with Zachary Lucky

ZacharyLucky-HighRes

by Laura Stanley 

For Saskatoon born folk/country musician Zachary Lucky, embarking on long tours that span months is not new. Booking his own tours since the start of his music career, shortly after finishing high school, Lucky is the reason why his schedules are so hectic. When asked why he does it to himself, Lucky laughs and says, “sort of masochistic, I guess.” 

“I grew up watching bands do that, just tour for months and months, shows every single night. So when I started booking tours, that’s just what made sense. It makes sense in a lot of ways…If you’re taking breaks then you’re just spending money. It’s hard enough making a living as a musician.”

A touring musician, a road warrior, or simply road weary, however you want to label him, Lucky likes the adventure and despite its gruelling nature, he thinks it is the “best thing.”

“There’s a lot of moving parts to it so a lot can go wrong and it can get really crazy. But at the end of the day, even when you’ve played to Thunder Bay for ten people and you’ve made hardly a tank of gas and you’re crawling into bed relatively drunk you’re like, “shit, this is the best thing I could have done with my day.” I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. There’s definitely moments where you wish you were at home but I sincerely, sincerely love what I do.”

In spite of musicians’ ability to,without leaving the comforts of their home, post their music online and by doing so, connect with listeners around the world, he believes that nothing can replace the immediacy of a live performance.

“Folk music is for the people, country music too. I love being out there with the people. Despite being a serious introvert and my distaste for crowded rooms, I love being with people and having honest conversations and eating and drinking and singing. So why not? Why not tour?”

In Lucky’s most recent album, The Ballad of Losing You, a country sound that just touches his earlier releases is pushed to the forefront. Additionally, an unbridled emotion travels throughout the record making the songs’ narratives of heartbreak and struggle to be very powerful. The shift in style is one that Lucky attributes to the music he was listening to at the time of writing and recording and the changes that come with growing older.

“It felt natural. I was listening to a lot of old country music, bluegrass stuff, and old English traditional music, and part of it was just the people who were involved too…The whole country thing, it wasn’t necessarily intentional. It just came out that way. If we didn’t have pedal steel and we had cello instead, it would have sounded folky. Country and folk music, the only difference is the production and it’s just the interpretations of the songs, I find.”

Lucky’s honest approach to music and performing allows him to be a genuine artist in an often dishonest cultural landscape. The realities of lengthy tours, no matter what positive experiences that may bring, can be taxing, a topic that Lucky covers in The Ballad of Losing You. In “Morning Words,” Lucky sings,

“As for you and me
you know I’d rather stay
but honey I’m a working man
didn’t plan it out this way
just five more nights of shows
in dusty old bar rooms
once I’m done my rambling
I’ll be coming home to you.”

His humbling words limit the romanticization of the travelling musician yet leave room for us to know that the experiences that come with touring are enough fuel to get to the next stop. 

“I’m still slugging it. I’m still climbing through the trenches, trying to build something, trying to do something. I guess you do that in hopes that someday it might be a little bit more than that. I don’t want much out of life. I just want to make a living and do what I love. If I can do that then it’s a life well lived to me.”

Zachary Lucky can be found playing in Toronto tonight and throughout Canada and the U.S. in November. For full tour information, visit his website

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Review – “Bass Lions” – Bass Lions

by Eleni Armenakis a3337072655_2

If you’d looked over Bass Lions’ bios before listening to their music, you wouldn’t be at fault for expecting some bone-shaking beats to come vibrating out of your speakers. But the band’s proclamations of their love for bass end up being misleading, though amusing. Instead the quartet’s third release—a self-titled mix of new material and a B-side of 2007’s More Than Islands—combines some choice elements of ambient, emotive indie rock, prodding an energetic side they didn’t fully reveal on their debut EP.

Bass Lions marks the band’s first release with Fortnight Music, introducing five new songs and a previously unreleased demo to go with the re-release. In many ways the self-titled album makes for an interesting before and after—if you’re the type of person to be into checking out a musical group’s development. Without discounting the poppier elements of their debut, the maturity of Bass Lions’ latest material offers itself up as proof of positive evolution.

The staccato drums of opener “We Got Guts” quickly drives the album into a Bloc Party-like frenzy, tapping into that band’s earlier, breathy anxiety while belting out its titular chorus on repeat. The effect is a flurry of defiance as the pressure inside the song builds, building up to keep time with the ever-present, never-relenting beat.

Nothing in Bass Lions’ new repertoire of songs comes close to matching the chaotic energy of the opening track, but the lingering scarcity of “Arm Over Arm” following the heavy opener—primarily a mix of drums and whirring loops—fuses nicely with the stripped down, visual vocals that softly stand against the panic of the intro. Nathan Stretch’s affinity for minimalist lyrics on repeat—the catchiest part of “We Got Guts”—finds its stride with “Body Doubles” even as its fingerprints are all over the album. The emotive upturned inflection of his voice brings back some of the intensity of the opener without ever really reaching the song’s climactic pace.

Things slow down even more as Bass Lions heads to its B side, with “Flame-Faced Children” and “Be Your Man” leaving behind the recurring lines and urgency for darker, slower melodies and quietly straining vocals. It’s not nearly as catchy as the beginning, but it does keep the band from sounding like they’re recycling new ideas as the tracks move into their older work.

It also brings things into line with More Than Islands for a neat segue, with spunky but stark “Ransom The Sunset” acting as the bridge to the far more similar “Good God Jesus” (whose demo appears as the bonus track). While the rest of the album can read as a product of its angst-ridden times, the ability of Bass Lions to draw such a clear line from their past to the present in a way that feels organic, while still managing to impress with their growth, is a clever stunt—and a testament to their ethic.

Top tracks: “We Got Guts”; “Body Doubles”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Whispers In the Wind” – The Unquiet Grave

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

whisp

Doom folk: a genre that sounds like a movie title. Canadian gothic: another genre, which threatens parody, but comes out wholehearted upon further inspection. Think Neil Young’s Dead Man soundtrack. And now, think The Unquiet Grave.

Out on Arachnidiscs just in time for halloween, the artist’s newest tape release, Whispers In the Wind, hints at ghost stories still unwritten. The modern world is alive throughout the lyrics of the record, but it seems to be dying too quickly to save. The artist always has the right word to remind us that things are more depraved and sunken than we might imagine: in the insistent, disonant landscape of “Running Towards the Money,” a pop format begets a lesson of intimacy and greed: “And the light from your eyes / how quickly it dies to me / cause you’re running for the money.” The track sounds like watching cut up, scratched out clips of Wolf of Wall Street in black and white.

The atmosphere of detachment — stimulated by the artist’s echoing voice and the muted drum machine beats found throughout the album’s material– is surprising given the personal level from which the lyrics are delivered, and the completeness of the songs. The slight level of abstraction comes from the delivery and production of the material: dark, in every way. Not Norwegian black metal dark, but freezing Northern Ontario moose carcass dark. Seriously, listen to “Haunted” — I guarantee there’s a dead moose in there somewhere

Variety is the center and circumference of the album. Electronic sounds might dominate one track like “20,000 Years of Suffering,” but then guitars and vocals alone will guide a track like “Celebrity Life” to fruition. The thematic tension remains throughout the shifting platforms of sound, demonstrating The Unquiet Grave’s range of arrangement. It takes a wise artist to pick between Bowie-esque descending synth wails and out of tune acoustic guitar strums; both are creepy, but only one can be right at the right time.

The Unquiet Grave has his finger on a devilish pulse in Canadian music. Whisper In the Wind will frighten the children from your porch at Halloween if you switch it with your tried and tested haunted house sound effects tape. It is not a pleasant listen as a record, but I don’t believe that was the intention behind its making. The music asks to be attacked by the ear, and the music is ready to answer with ghostly clarity. Let this creepy tape freak you out: it’s the Canadian gothic way.

Top Tracks: “Haunted” , “Celebrity Lie”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Very Good)

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Review – “Revenge” – Port Juvee

reviewed by Anna Alger

Calgary’s Port Juvee have released their debut EP, Revenge, a rollicking show of their garage influenced rock. The group have a knack for creating real jams, evidently drawing influence from bands like The Strokes and fellow Calgarians, The Dudes. Produced by Justin Gerrish, who has worked with the likes of Vampire Weekend and Weezer, Port Juvee’s debut finds them staying true to their roots while displaying a sound influenced by the New York scene of the 2000s.

The EP begins with “Toe The Line,” a direct indie rock number that showcases a strong bassline and off-the-cuff lyrics. Staccato guitar accentuates the vocal melody, later taking over the song for a brief solo. “All That’s Fine” is dancier than the first track, and features a catchy beat paired with poppy guitars. The song’s bridge shows the band’s strength in creating rock songs that are from the heart. Third song and title track, “Revenge,” has vocal and guitar lines that mirror each other. Darker lyrics are paired with a melody in a major key, creating a nice contrast that keeps the listener engaged.

The latter half of the album starts out even more upbeat in terms of melody, with “Half The Time I’d Rather Be Waiting” communicating the band’s wistful ethos lyrically. The instrumentation in this song is really clear and solid – to the point, like good rock should be. Thumping bass opens “Just The Thing,” the guitar accenting the desperation evident in the lyrics. The rhythm section really drives this song, which is full of energy. “Rooks” slows things down in ballad form to conclude the EP. It’s refreshing to hear the band reduce their tempo a bit, yet still retain the spirit present in their previous songs.

Melding indie and garage rock, Port Juvee are making great music for lovers of the New York sound. Revenge shows a comfortable group of musicians who have written enjoyable songs that exhibit their individual and collective talents. Extensive touring has clearly benefited the band, given how cohesive they already sound on their debut. I am excited to hear what they do next!

Revenge is available now via Bandcamp.

Top Tracks: “All That’s Fine,” “Revenge,” “Toe The Line”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Preconscious EP” – Marble Pawns

a1463668107_2reviewed by Elysse Cloma

Indie dream pop psych rock band Marble Pawns of Victoria, B.C. reached out to us with their hypercool Preconscious EPPreconscious is the home recording project of Marble Pawns’ front man Graeme Clarke, the product of “slaving away hours” in his basement with a minimal recording set up.

Preconscious is Marble Pawns being baby Tame Impala in Graeme Clarke’s basement. They write melodic, synth-heavy psychedelic rock tracks with fluid structures, textures, and substance. Every song has a thoughtful, meditative synth soundscape from start-to-finish.

“Headspace” is a psychedelic walk through instrumental dreamland, with a fuzz bass groove, careful synth transitions, lackadaisical vocals, and a lax, musing guitar solo. Like Tame Impala songs, the songs on Preconscious are about relatable ideas that are elusive enough to remain personal to Clarke – often about discontent with the self and other people. Marble Pawns aren’t all Tame Impala though.

While successfully reproducing a psychedelic sound, Preconscious is a nascent homage to psychoanalysis. “What Now?” is a depressingly relatable track about the existential crisis one experiences after reading Freud’s theories, laced with introspection and the recognition of irrationality: “I hate who I am and I’m terrified of what I might become. I fake being happy and it’s draining me”. It’s the most captivating on the EP, sampling spoken word segments on psychoanalysis and incorporating them into the feel of the song.

Throughout the EP, Clarke references dreams, the unconscious, and the ego. Freud nerds of Grayowl, take note. Preconscious by Marble Pawns is full of psychoanalytic existential hoots.

Top Tracks: “Headspace”; “What Now?”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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