Review – “32X” – Dream Jefferson

32xreviewed by Michael Thomas

It’s been a long while since Dream Jefferson began hinting at their full-length album. Now, finally, the time has come, and 32X has finally dropped onto the world. During a live set a while back, front man Owel Five called the group’s music “Madness, wonder, love, hatred, space and your favourite TV shows,” and it’s an unwieldy but accurate description of what the group does.

Dream Jefferson’s brand of electro-hip-hop encompasses a wide spectrum of human emotions, from celebratory happiness to contemplative sadness. As such, it allows for the group to flex its muscles and deliver a diverse smorgasbord of material. From the infectious repetition in “CyberPunkRockRap” to the deeper sentiments of “Château de Versailles,” there’s something in it for everyone.

Vocalist Owel Five and producer Corboe’s biggest strength is rapid-fire delivery—songs sizzle just that much more with a steady barrage of words like “Goblin Shark Kids” and “Light Therapy.” As might be implied by the “TV” portion of the unwieldy description above, the band drops so many references it’s difficult to list here, but extra props go to them for the Game of Thrones references in both “CyberPunkRockRap” and “The Filth.”

The songs are also at their strongest when they incorporate their collaborators Ian Strasboug and Tovah Fine, making songs like “The Ballad of Valeska Suratt” that much more of a community effort. At some point on the album you will also hear Paul Saulnier of PS I Love You and even Kira May.

As if the rapidfire delivery wasn’t enough, the backing beats have really gotten stronger. The electronics seem to really draw from 8-bit music, from the plunking of “Oblivia” to “Fireworks Over the Roxy.” At times, to match up with the aggression in Owel Five’s delivery, the beats get a lot more intense, almost industrial, like in “Gainsbourg!”

If this review feels like it’s barely scratching the surface, it should. 32X is an album that demands several listens to fully unlock, pulsating with catchy electronics and a cavalcade of pop culture references.

Top Tracks: “Château de Versailles”; “The Filth”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Progress” – Ryan Carr

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis a2301733118_2

With two mandolins, five guitars and a stunning 26 harmonicas to his name, it seems like Toronto musician Ryan Carr is quite the collector. But for someone who obviously deals in quantity, the sometimes busker has opted for quality when it comes to his debut EP and Progress rolls in at a mere three songs.

Carr lists plenty of influences, including four years at jazz school, a two-year bluegrass binge, three years touring with a gypsy pop band and, somewhere in there, a three-year stint in London, England filled with playing, writing, recording and working with other musicians. It’s the kind of mixed-bag repertoire that keeps each track on Progress from blending in with the rest—and keeps Carr from blending in with the rest as well. There are jazz flourishes, storytelling verses and a new genre with every song change, as though Carr truly set out to create a sampler of his work up to this point.

“Tall, Tall Grass” is a bouncing, dance-worthy indie number that opens the EP, punching through the trilling notes being rung out as Carr playfully sings along. At the same time, he sets up and then undermines the story he’s telling—upending the typical expectations the first verse would have set up in any other song and giving just a taste of his satirical writing.

There’s more of that in “You Can’t Stop Progress” as Carr sings, “You can bitch, you can moan, you can whinge, you can whine, ain’t no one going to listen to all your crying,” while describing trying to settle into a modern life. It’s bluegrass social commentary at its finest—quirky, funny and fantastically literal. And while it doesn’t have the immediate appeal of the other two songs on the EP, it’s got enough personality to win you over to its downtrodden side after only a couple of plays.

“The Healer” smoothens some of the twang from “You Can’t Stop Progress,” moving away from the storytelling quality of the first two tracks with a folk/country twist. Carr’s vocals tap into something powerful as he lowers his voice in for the hymn-like song. The chorus’ call of “Oh healer, lay your hands on me” also happens to be a catchy one—a clever way to end the EP as the final lines repeat inside your head and spur you into going back to sample the brief, rich wares yet again.

Top Track: “You Can’t Stop Progress”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Lost Reverie” – Surely I Come Quickly

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

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Did you know that any sense can be affected with ambience? I don’t know why, but for the longest time, I assumed that ambience was limited to sonic waves and vibrations. You can have ambient smells, sights, touch, and tastes. Pretty weird huh?

Surely I Come Quickly makes ambient music. I’m not going to make some grand claim that he appeals to all the ambient senses listed above — the man makes cassette music and there’s really only so much you can do with one of those things, you know? Though if anything came close to creating such an effect, it would have to be his newest release. Out on Toronto label Adhesive Sounds, Lost Reverie is a delightful play date held between vinyl and a loop pedal. Atmospheres swirl out like sweet ambrosia, taking place in developing spaces, twisted into shape by the sinews of disparate musics.

The tracks on the album are vast like the plains of Surely I Come Quickly’s home province of Saskatchewan. The eight minute long “Kurelek” leads the pack in length, administering blending horns and laser light show of oscillating tones as a coda. When loops repeat like they do on Lost Reverie, they slowly become something different — the context in which you are listening to them shifts as your search for meaning shifts as well. “Kurelek” begins as one story and ends as at least three others. It stands in stark contrast to the imaginary love song of “Genevieve” or the Indian hoe down of “Nahanni,” but each of those has tides of meaning as well. Like the cover for the cassette, these pieces of music are overlapping images, melding together to create an entirely new picture, in which the forms of each lose their original significance in the light of deeper interactions within the piece as a whole. These studies in music do not seek to captivate, but to charm with novelty, and it seems to me that they do it quite well.

Throughout the album, the soothing sound of vinyl cracks on as more records are fed into the digital mix and looped. If you’re like me and you spent a long period of your listening life engaged with old 78 rpm records that had been given new life in the age of cds, the sound will not be new or harsh. It sounds like dirt underfoot, or rain drops falling into the music, and it is the perfect spice to Surely I Come Quickly’s ambient work.

If you’re seeking writing music for the fall, walking music for the fall, fall music for the fall, I would highly recommend Lost Reverie.

Top Tracks: “Kurelek” , “Genevieve”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Absolutely Free” – Absolutely Free

reviewed by Anna Alger

Toronto’s new indie darlings Absolutely Free have released their self-titled debut record, featuring sounds akin to those of Tame Impala and Deerhunter (with decidedly more synths). The trio, composed of Matt King, Moshe Rozenberg, and Mike Claxton, are bringing familiar yet genuine sounds to light with this record, their unique twist on psychedelic, electronic, and pop music being clear as day.

The album opens with “Window Of Time,” a dirge which slowly builds and fills out with samples of bird chirping, laughter, and distorted guitar. Found sound is prominent in this song, juxtaposed by the choral backing vocals. “Beneath The Air” sets the album into more of a familiar rhythm, jaunting pop drawing the listener in. Joy seeps out of the track when it hits the chorus, really solidifying the band’s strength in putting euphoria to music.

An off kilter beat provides the basis of following track, “Striped Light,” its repetitive nature providing the basis for additional layers of percussion and a melodic keyboard line to join the initial sounds. One of the best moments of this song is when the horns come in, reminiscent of their place in the songs of label mates such as Broken Social Scene and Apostle of Hustle. “Burred Lens” finds the band delving into more of an electronic sound, a dark melody being joined by a simple beat as the song begins to bloom. The lyrics paint the scene of an urban night, synths coming in to fill out the atmosphere. This song is reminiscent of the work of LCD Soundsystem, beats becoming more and more prominent as it goes on. The music overwhelms the vocals in a deliberate and intriguing way, lyrics posing the question: “the connection…is it real?” The song fades out in blissed out synths, ending a truly spectacular wave of instrumentation.

“Earth II” is awash in electronics, the sound rolling in like ocean waves. A basic drum line starts up, giving away to endearingly feeble vocals that are perhaps a little too overpowered by synths. The beat breaks up and adds colour to the song, which carries on, beginning to feature small moments of dissonance. “My Dim Age” is triumphant, humming along in a positive way as it begins. Where the track gets interesting is as the verses come in with their wonky melody and soft, lulling vocals. “Vision’s” has its basis in solid drumming, fun guitar and synth lines, but most of all: infectious energy. The album closes with “Spiral Jetty,” a long and rollicking synth based number.

Absolutely Free are making music that is most definitely worth listening to, both for pure enjoyment and to recognize the versatility of sound this band exhibits. Drawing from an evidently broad range of influences, there is a reason why this group has been able to release their debut on one of the most esteemed independent record labels, Toronto’s own Arts & Crafts. Catch them at Lee’s Palace tonight with WISH and The Wooden Sky.

Absolutely Free is out now via Arts & Crafts.

Top Tracks: “Burred Lens,” “Striped Light”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good) + *swoop*

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Review – “Winsome Kind” – Winsome Kind

reviewed by Elysse Cloma
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Husband and wife duo Winsome Kind are as earnest as they come. Two years ago, Scott Perrie (formerly of Redgy Blackout) and Leora Joy (singer, actress) met while performing on a production of The Buddy Holly Story in Saskatchewan. One year later, the two set out across Canada, performing on-board VIA-RAIL from coast to coast. They got engaged, returned to Vancouver, and recorded their debut album just two weeks before their wedding. With possibly the most despicably adorable Canadiana love story ever told, Winsome Kind’s music reflects the buoyancy of being in love.

Released on October 7th, Winsome Kind’s self-titled debut is delightful. These days, it seems like everyone’s putting out “lo-fi garage basement punk,” and “debut” is often synonymous with “nascent” or “underdeveloped”. Winsome Kind is neither lo-fi nor nascent, and has a refined indie-folk-pop sound. Produced by Tom Dobrzanski (of the Zolas), the album is clean and polished, full of tracks that vitally capture Winsome Kind’s musical personality.

Winsome Kind write silvery pop-folk songs about new beginnings, optimism, and love. They pair definite vocal duets with acoustic guitar and a basic accompanying band, consisting of bass (Marcus Abramzik), drums (Samual Cartwright), the occasional speckle of mandolin, and melodica. “Intertwined” features a whimsically winding, Andrew Bird-esque, mandolin hook that I can’t get enough of. “This Much Is True,” encapsulates Winsome Kind’s best sensibilities superbly: their flawless vocal duets, gleeful attitude, and catchy sing-along chorus lines.

Winsome Kind is an album that’s not overreaching in any respect – lyrically, vocally, or instrumentally – which makes for a confident sound and an easy listen. “When I Wait” shows off Leora’s fancifully angelic voice and Scott’s guitar technique. It’s a perfect example of their simply peachy style, which is professional and thoroughly sincere.

The songs on the album are accessible. Though predictable at times, the lyrics are easy to understand and relate to. Each song sounds cheerful; when the subject matter is not about a happy feeling, there is always a silver lining. “Burning Out” is about facing uphill battles with a positive attitude; “Better Days” and “My Goodbye” are about personal growth and letting go of past relationships.

While Winsome Kind might be too merry for my tastes, they may be a better fit for folks who enjoy artists like Serena Ryder, The Head and The Heart, or The Civil Wars.

How does a band from the land of rain, steep hills, and active wear (Vancouver) remain so positively happy? It must be love. I reckon Winsome Kind are as disgustingly happy as their music sounds.

Top Tracks: “Intertwined”, “When I Wait”

Rating: Young Hoot (Decent)

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

reviewed by Laura Stanley WeatherStationWhatAmICoverWeb

The meditative spirit of Tamara Lindeman (The Weather Station) and subsequently her keen attention to detail as found in her lyrics is entrancing. With so many strong folk voices in Canada right now, it’s too much to say that Lindeman is the only one keeping folk music alive in this country but it feels too little to say that she is, simply, a great addition to this circle of folksters. Lindeman is a force. With her hushed vocals and instrumentals she draws you away from your busy (technology) filled life to a more organic sense of being. One where, for better or worse, feelings and the richness found in human experiences are at the forefront. 

Lindeman’s new EP, What Am I Going To Do With Everything I Know, feels like a return of The Weather Station. During the three years since All Of It Was Mine, Lindeman has been busy teaming up with the likes of Bahamas (Afie Jurvanen), Doug Paisley, Field Report and, as found in her 2013 Duets project, Daniel Romano, Steve Lambke (Baby Eagle), Ian Kehoe (Marine Dreams). Although this EP, and the full-length record slated for release in 2015, are touched by Daniel Romano and Megafaun and Jurvanen and Robbie Lackritz respectively, the intimacy of Lindeman alone is unmatched.

The brief twenty-two minute EP gives listeners plenty to reflect on without an overwhelming sense of sadness. According to the press release, Side A “examines knowledge” while side B is “a narrative, a love story in three parts.” Never breaking from the quiet acoustic tones that Lindeman continues to be firmly in control of, each of the six songs are simple yet hold a strength that is telling of an intelligent songwriter.

In the EP’s opening, Lindeman situates listens in a location that seems to attract those living in limbo – a friend’s couch. Cozy but never quite home (“…they had piles of bills and letters and all these photographs of people I would never meet”), Lindeman sings of the unfamiliarity of her surroundings not truly bringing comfort despite the listening ear of a friend with the lyric, “I don’t understand anything that has happened to me. Like I’m telling a friend and I don’t even believe me.”

The confidential nature of “Don’t Understand” is just the beginning of Side A’s sense that our shared scrutinizations will stay between ourselves. Already covered by Paper Beat Scissors (Tim Crabtree) and Michael Feuerstack, as heard on the Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada 5 compilation before its official release, the quick paced “What Am I Going To Do (With Everything I Know)” is one of the brightest spots in The Weather Station’s collection.

The narrative of Side B (the three part love story) follows the contemplative Side A appropriately and with ease. The “Soft Spoken Man” is the muse of the story with “Time” (whose muted drum inclusion makes it full sounding in this minimalistic set) being an ever present force pushing things towards uncertainty and an “Almost Careless” proposition (“you laughed and coloured and nodded yes”) ending the story, and EP, in happiness.

What Am I Going To Do With Everything I Know maintains Tamara Lindeman’s abilities to express the emotions that unite us all. Paired with a timeless folk style, we will be listening to The Weather Station for years to come. 

Top Tracks: “Don’t Understand,” “What Am I Going To Do (With Everything I Know)”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*

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Review – “dumb summer” – Prom

dumb summerreviewed by Michael Thomas

It’s always a delight when a band is exactly as advertised—though perhaps “delight” might not be the right word to describe Prom, a Toronto band whose description includes the phrase “bummer jams.” Prom make no attempt at being something they’re not, which is why this EP comes across as so genuine and, hey, affectingly sad.

We previously described this band as the embodiment of the sound of pessimism, and on dumb summer, Prom’s latest EP, that sadness has clearly not gone anywhere. If anything, it’s gotten even more pronounced. Prom would likely find a kindred spirit in Edmonton’s Jom Comyn, as both feature music with deep vocals and beautiful accompaniments, with Prom skewing a bit more in the indie-pop direction.

The sounds of dumb summer are almost a musical representation of how Toronto collectively felt during the unusually cool summer. There’s a sense of haze, of disorientation, of wanting to just go to sleep, wake up and pretend that’s it’s all a dream—only for the truth to hit you in the face again.

With James Rodgers added to what was previously just Daniel Wilson and Sufian Malik, the arrangements now feel bigger, most evident in the beautiful “lcbo.” with more upbeat synths and a sense of urgency to the guitars. Lyrics are harder to distinguish this time around, with the delivery resembling a mutter, but it’s all part of the atmosphere.

The opener and closer, “television” and “crybaby” respectively, encourage maximum sadness levels; the narrator of the former song seems to only want to sit and waste away in front of a TV screen, judging by the repeated line “I need more television…”

But don’t just listen to Prom to get sad, also admire the beautiful instrumental work here. The dreamy “park moods” has a great bass solo in between swirling guitars and synths, and “crybaby” will blow you away with guitar.

Long live sad pop.

Top Track: “lcbo”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Sleeping Operator” – The Barr Brothers

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis image

The three years since Montreal-based The Barr Brothers released their self-titled debut have been filled with anticipation to see what the diverse quartet would come out with next, and last week’s Sleeping Operator finally answered that question in stunning form. The group, who’ve always stood out for incorporating a harp into their folk and blues sound, have gone even further this time around by delving into their childhood lessons in West African drumming, finding even more obscure instruments to layer into their dreamy follow up.

From the mesmerizing opening notes of “Static Orphan” blending seamlessly into the catchy “Love Ain’t Enough,” the restraint on display builds formidably into the chorus, veering onwards with the simplistic lyrics. Twangy “Even the Darkness Has Arms” becomes essential listening as it’s rolling time, gentle vocals and riddle-like journey pull you firmly into the album’s illusions.

Still, it’s “How the Heroine Dies,” with it’s nods to Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Waltz,” that becomes the most penetrating song of the album. The slow, mournful tune feels quieter than the rest, demanding your full attention for all four minutes and bringing everything else to a commanding stop. And while there’s nothing particularly crafty about the chorus, “When the poet decides that the heroine dies, he commits original sin,” there’s a weight to the conclusion that fits the slow, waltzing rhythm and fills it with meaning.

There’s another half to Sleeping Operator that’s far more lively–a blending of West African drumming and classic blues that crashes up against these gentle tracks. And yet, for all it’s subsequent roughness in the face of that restraint, “Half Crazy” still comes out as delicious as the rest. The clapping beat, tinny vocals and occasional wail come from the same deep place, finding the common ground between the genres and getting right to the emotions that drive the music.

Sparse “Bring Me Your Love” is just as haunting, with searching vocals cooing over the brushings of a drum and yet with far more of a cutting edge to it than the lead up. Meanwhile “England,” another irresistible track, finds its fit with more common alt-folk as it marches over a steady, subdued beat.

For all that the album is sure to introduce some new elements, or at the very least revive some traditional ones, to contemporary blues, the languid stirring of closer “Please Let Me Let It Go” leaves the softer side of Sleeping Operator to linger on. The Barr Brothers’ use of the harp has always dictated a calmer, hushed sound but it’s also what gives so many of their tracks their rich, soul-searching pain, and that’s what’s at its finest here.

Top Tracks: “How The Heroine Dies”; “Even the Darkness Has Arms”

Rating: Proud Hoot + *swoop*

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Review – ” Beast to Bone” – The Sands

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

The Sands, Beast to Bone

The Sands play an unexpected blend of folk tones and jazz forms, with some rock and roll grit thrown in like an oil slick on the beach. The Vancouver songwriters Julie McGeer and Peggy Lee have assembled a wonderful cast of characters on their newest release, produced by Jesse Zubot of Tanya Tagaq fame, to illustrate scenes that are both vast and incredibly intimate, the arrangements leading the way. The recordings are earnest, with little fat to get choked up on. It’s a mature album, Beast to Bone, and it demands to be listened to with childish glee and an appreciation of the novel.

The album makes for great pop with little to no cliche; there is such a rich collection of song material at The Sands’ disposal, and none of it is wasted: every note, every drum roll has a necessary, fulfilling effect on the record. That’s not something you hear every day, in our day and age of compression frippery. There is a general structure to be found on the album: part one, which consists of a poem-prompt, a clear image, and part two, which allows  the image to take on wings of horns, piano, and guitar, and fly away in odd directions, folkways of signification. But to spell things out so simply is to boil sea water down to liquid and powder, and does not allow the little miracles of Beast to Bone to breathe freely.

The album leads off with three heavyweight tracks, but “Fall” takes on the most weight. Slow-moving three part vocals tell a tale of trust and partnership through confusion. The regal timbre of the strings and keys throughout the song produce sophistication within a tale of vulnerability.

“Against the Drift” is a personal favourite. The title lends itself to visions of Neil Young, and the lead vocal on the track leads itself even more to the wavering, individualistic sounds of the old man and his whispering madness. The closing “ooh ooh” vocals make this track a sumptuous pop two parter, made for easy repeat play.

Give The Sands credit, their cover of “Jealous Guy” by Mr. Lennon is a different take on simplicity, yet it leads back to the message of the track with powerful recognition.

Beast to Bone is a slice of life record, that refuses to cast off the brilliance of moments as they really happen. Captured thoughts and sounds dot the tracks, making them something worth listening to attentively.

Top Tracks: “Against the Drift” , “Magnolia”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “No One Is Lost” – Stars

reviewed by Anna Alger

Montreal band Stars are at it again, continuing their 13+ year run with new LP, No One Is Lost, another step in the growth and change this group constantly undergoes while staying consistently true to the pop form. This is a hardworking, persistent group of people – and their latest album reaffirms that. Take note of the heavy bias within this review – I’ve been a fan for the better part of the last seven years.

The album was recorded above a gay disco in Montreal’s Mile End, and this is evident from the first track, “From The Night.” One of the strongest songs on the album, a beautifully atmospheric intro draws listeners into co-lead singer Torquil Campbell’s message for the ones who went out, as well as those who stayed in. A minimalist beat pulses throughout the verses, until the chorus makes the song burst into joyous dance pop accompanied by Amy Millan’s vocals.

The energy stays high as Millan leads following song, “This Is The Last Time,” but it is the third track, “You Keep Coming Up,” which shines by focusing on the natural vocal pairing of Campbell and Millan. This synth heavy slow jam evokes the sound of British duo, Electronic.

“Turn It Up” is a shimmering back-to-school number, complete with the band’s young children providing a choir of backup vocals. The following track led by Millan, “No Better Place,” is one of the most startlingly graceful songs on the album. It features Chris Seligman’s synths and the guitar tones of Chris McCarron creating a wash of contemplative atmosphere. This album really showcases the versatility Millan has in applying her vocals to compelling downtempo songs as well as upbeat, unabashed pop, which still has an edge to it.

“What Is To Be Done?” moves the record along with a haunting, looped piano melody that becomes overwhelmed by strings reminiscent of the band’s 2004 album, Set Yourself on Fire. Within the verses it occasionally feels as if the song is building in an overly lengthy manner, but the way in which the song climbs is intriguing enough to maintain the listener’s attention.

One of the highlights of the record is “Trap Door,” which can be likened to A Song Is A Weapon from previous record, The North. Campbell leads the verses, voice dripping with sarcasm and his often-used theatrical air. The rhythm section of Evan Cranley and Pat McGee really carry this song forward, and it delivers. “Are You OK?” is one of the most robust songs on the album, the music in the verses heavily inspired by New Order.

“The Stranger” and “Look Away” showcase the band’s talent at slower songs that focus on storytelling, while “No One Is Lost” wraps up the album with Stars’ classic clash of upbeat music with lyrics unafraid to explore the darkness, even that which exists in joy.

Through No One Is Lost, Stars prove themselves once again as a band with an intuitive knowledge of how to craft the pop songs that both break your heart and lift you up from the ruins (or those that help you through any stage of that journey). Intricate lyrical detail mixed with powerful music has led to the group’s success, and this combination is only getting better with experience. Pop is a vast realm and Stars are exploring its corners through their collective versatility.

No One Is Lost is currently streaming via NPR and will be released on October 14th. The album can be pre-ordered via the band’s website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Top Tracks: “You Keep Coming Up,” “From The Night,” “Are You OK?”

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

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