Review – “Steady Sun” – Collette Andrea

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis a1362320189_2

It was almost two years ago that Collette Andrea (Collette Falk) first made an impression with her debut, Luna. The Brampton songstress and former GTA-resident who has just recently moved to Hawaii has just released her long-awaited follow up, Steady Sun. For fans of Luna, there’s plenty of promise here as she reunites with Hannah-Kin Studio for another five-song EP that yet again showcases her rich vocals and ability to captivate through a simplistic touch.

From the first notes of “Give Me All Your Lovin,’” Falk seems to be setting out to prove that she’s gained nothing but confidence in the two years since we’ve last heard from her. There’s an added edge to her voice as she sings, belting out the titular demand and reshaping the slow-moving country beat for her own indie blues twist.

That sort of growth is evident throughout Steady Sun, from the hypnotically philosophical “A Song About Spring” to experimental “You and Me.” Along the way, Falk soulfully puzzles over time as her guitar chords roll through the pictured landscape and her lyrics thumb over unmet expectations. It’s on those slower, wandering songs like “Water” that her most impressive instrument—her voice—really steps out with the kind of presence that made certain tracks on Luna stand out for their potential.

Typically an acoustic performer, Falk has maintained a stripped down approach to her instrumentation with a lone guitar offering up the only accompaniment she really needs. While her slower tracks may add the occasional flourish of backing vocals or ambiance that emphasizes the imagery, there’s a sense that Falk understands the balance she’s keen to strike. That’s not to say the entire album is a delicate acoustic journey as the last two songs on the EP strike out in a darker, more fevered direction.

Eponymous “Steady Sun” marks the transition with a slow build up to a crashing shift a minute in. Falk’s vocals, typically clear and smooth take advantage of some effects to roughen them up as she aggressively pleads her case. While closer “You And Me” returns to Falk’s even-handed approach, there’s a divergence from her usual sound as she plays with more eastern sounds, layering them over background clatter to set a scene in a way her other tracks have only hinted at.

Yet again Falk ends her album with the promise of more exploration in the future, expanding and delving into new ideas and sounds and seamlessly tying them into what has come before. And as her voice comes out stronger than ever, it’s certain that whatever direction she chooses to go in she won’t lose her most captivating sound.

Top Track: “A Song About Spring”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Highway” – Hey Mother Death

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

Hey Mother Death

It’s really no surprise that the text for Highway was mostly written in the wintertime. Hey Mother Death’s Paris/ Halifax death grooves are like wolves skulking through the snow: vicious and mysterious. Spoken word pieces in French and English are crafted into music by the repetitive language of new-no-wave licks, and the words grow bolder as the tracks get quieter.

Sometimes trying not to say too much too loud ends up communicating more than all the rest, and that’s how this album stands out. The melodic constructions within each track are minimal, yes, the percussion is muted and molasses-slow, of course; but the real understatement comes from somewhere else entirely. The heart of each Hey Mother Death piece acts out a sinister drama, distressing the pieces in play within the music. “Bad Sex,” the third track in the procession, does this plainly; by track’s end, the lyrics have been challenged into submission by the cries of synthesizers and dub drum echoes.

“The fire of passion” is the name of the game for Hey Mother Death. They have built a shelter in the monoculture wasteland to gather under and speak quietly into the coming twilight. There are strange visitors to be found in the substance of this record, ones that will tell you stories to give you chills. Check it out online for now, with an impending vinyl release this September.

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Top Tracks: “Bad Sex” , “Snake Power”

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Why Owen Pallett should win the Polaris Prize

Owen Pallett. Photo: Peter Juhl.

Owen Pallett, Photo: Peter Juhl.

by Elena Gritzan

Michael mentioned in his Arcade Fire essay this week that if the widely celebrated Montreal band were to take home the honour, they would be the first to do so for a second time. It would certainly be a bold statement to say that one artist has made two of the artistically best albums in eight years. As Michael pointed out, the Arcade Fire record is wonderfully complex (it’s actually my favourite thing that they’ve ever done), but I don’t think that it is enough to earn a double-Polaris honour.

Since Owen Pallett won the inaugural prize in 2006, he faces a similar hurdle. I’m here to say that yes, the Prize can and should go to a previous winner if they deserve it. But that person is Owen Pallett.

In Conflict is Pallett’s fourth album, and with it he reaches new artistic heights. The situational content is plucked from Pallett’s personal life, but even if you’ve never faced a similar problem, the emotional centre feels very real and familiar. Uncertainty over having children. Navigating a gender-dichotomized world as a person who doesn’t feel at ease placed in a box. Knowing that it’s time to move on to a new stage in your life, even if that means leaving behind the place you once thought you loved. It’s all heart-aching, conflicted inner core style emotions, making this an immensely relatable album.

Musically, it’s big. It’s ambitious. In adding back his former Les Mouches bandmates, Rob Gordon and Matt Smith, he has reached a scope and sound that is unprecedented for the violin-looping artist. This is heard most intensely in the driving power of “The Riverbed” or the drum scatters on “Infernal Fantasy”, though each song is imbued with a sense of drama.

Pallett combines this grandness with everything that has endeared his music to audiences in the past – imagery rooted in fantasy, clever lyrics whose meanings twist to reveal new layers each time you hear them, highly informed composition, a voice that soars with empathy and wit. He also throws in some old Pallett touchstones like referring to his name lyrically and vocal doubling. Essentially, everything that has worked for him before is thrown into this album, dialled up with a new intensity.

There’s some well-chosen collaborations in Brian Eno and the Soul Sisters Supreme that add essential moments: the former for a touch of ambient atmospherics and the latter delivering beautiful vocals from the perspective of the Milky Way galaxy.

But as wonderful as the music is here, it’s the keen sense of empathy that really makes it a winner. At the end of “The Secret Seven”, a song about weathering the rising waters of depression, he offers up his real phone number in case “your mother doesn’t answer.” A literal reflection of how Pallett helps people through providing relatable, strong, supportive music.

If anyone deserves to take home the Polaris for a second time, it’s certainly Owen Pallett.

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Review – “Alvvays” – Alvvays

revievved by Laura StanleyLPjacket-final

Ahead of the official release of their debut album, Toronto-based band Alvvays took the internet by storm last week. In addition to being a subject of NPR’s First Listen, Alvvays played on Q with Jian Ghomeshi much to the delight of the band members’ mothers. With a delicate balance of unrequited love songs and sickly-sweet pop hooks, this rise in attention is for good reason.

It almost seems too perfect that as I write this, lost somewhere in limbo between adolescence and adulthood and paired with the summer’s soaring temperatures, Alvvays’ self-titled record should come out. For many twenty-somethings, the age is coupled with immense uncertainties and difficult relationships. With one swift and charming lyric, Alvvays’ lead-singer Molly Rankin is able to validate these feelings with staggering accuracy: “too late to go out, too young to stay in.”

Alongside the powerhouse of hooks that is “Archie, Marry Me,” where this lyric resides, the title of the opening song, “Adult Diversion,” says plenty about twenty-something year old feelings as well. Its quick tempo and reckless sensibility matches the strength of lyrics like, “if I should fall/act as though it never happened/I will retreat and then go back to university,” for an anthem-like quality.

If you do not fall under this Millennial generation’s spell, fear not, you will not be left out of the joys that Alvvays brings. In a shroud of reverberation, plenty of guitar and lyrical riffs, and the charming vocals of Rankin, Alvvays provides the moveable pop songs you have been looking for this summer.   

Beginning with a quick riff from a slightly distorted guitar, “Next of Kin” depicts a pastoral scene skewed by a melancholic tale with a catchy chorus that will make you fall in love with this band. In another energetic and catchy romp, again highlighted by some nifty guitar sounds, “Atop a Cake” is ripe to take an adventure with. 

Where Rankin suggests to “seek comfort in debauchery” in the song “Party Police,” this summer you will always be able to seek comfort in Alvvays.

Top Tracks: “Archie, Marry Me”, “Next of Kin”

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

 

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Review – “6 Possible Illusions Prior to Death” – Formalists

6 possible illusions prior to deathreviewed by Michael Thomas

Last week I wrote about the type of band that is great at what they do. This week, as luck would have it, there comes a band who is the second type of good band—a band that makes everything sound fresh and exciting and new.

Like the title of a literary novel, 6 Possible Illusions Prior to Death is the first full-length album from Toronto quartet Formalists. While a six-song recording with only one really long song might be considered an EP, each song has so much meat on its bone that it’s easy to call this an album proper.

Whichever illusion one decides to visit will reveal much. Those looking for a truly disorienting experience can look first at “Thornhill (x18) For Long Life,” a song with more twists and turns than something…with a lot of twists and turns. Over the course of a little over five minutes, the song manages to incorporate gentle guitar picking, an organ interlude, a shift to accordion, a bell (as if a certain musical style’s time was up) and some gloomy guitar to cap it all off. “Fughetta” (which is also one of the best songs on the album) begins with creepy organ notes before erupting into a schizophrenic tirade of loud guitars and screaming. It ends so abruptly you won’t know what’s hitting you.

For something perhaps a bit more meditative, start with “Awakened/Reposed,” which also features plenty of gentle guitars, sweet vocals (with plenty of hearty backup vocals). But oh yeah, there’s an electric guitar interlude that sounds like it could be on a classic rock album from the 70s. “Oko Yono” features plenty of classical guitar playing to start it off—once Joseph Landau’s vocals come in, so do the drums, and so do the hopes of the song being conventional. Before long, heavy electric guitars are wailing away, setting up an interesting contrast between Landau’s gentle vocals and the instrumental assault.

And then there are the other two songs that are truly illusions. Opener “Moist Raisin Body” is another album highlight, with a pseudo-world-music feel to it. There’s some pleasant interplay between the guitar and shakers, and Landau begins singing some simple—yet disturbing—lyrics. Example: “You know that bodies are everything twice/First they are carrots, then they are slime.” Followed by a hearty chorus of “Turn into slime” repeated several times.

And then there’s the 10-minute-long “Go Joseph! Jacob’s Favourite” which may or may not be a satirical comment on Landau’s involvement in a myriad of bands. The song’s narrator laments spending all of his time making CDs, printing t-shirts and writing songs that no one will like. But the chorus says Joseph shouldn’t feel let down and never quit. Of course the extended run-time fits all kind of melodies in, from keyboard-driven stuff to what sounds like a duel between a guitar and a bass.

What you do with the illusions is up to you—just remember that you will eventually turn into slime.

And be sure to check out the CD release show for the record this Saturday, July 26 at Cinecycle in Toronto.

Top Tracks: “Moist Raisin Body”; “Fughetta”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Why Arcade Fire should win the Polaris Prize

Arcade Fire//Photo: Jared Polin

Arcade Fire//Photo: Jared Polin

by Michael Thomas

But they already won the Polaris Prize! – Jaded Polaris Fan #1

This is their weakest album so far, it doesn’t deserve it. – Jaded Polaris Fan #2

These are just two of many (transparently imagined) responses to Canada’s arguably biggest “indie” bands. Up until last year, Arcade Fire could do no wrong in the eyes of the music-loving public, but that changed with the release of Reflektor, the band’s most polarizing album to date.

When reviews started to surface, critics either praised it immensely or hated it with a passion with no grey area. Why is this? It seemed to be inevitable as soon as Arcade Fire won a Grammy, then a bunch of Junos, then the Polaris Prize. Inevitably, there would be some resentment of their success, though perhaps it was because Reflektor doesn’t immediately conform to a theme, like The Suburbs so neatly did.

This sounds like a lot to overcome for Arcade Fire to become the first-ever two-time winner of the prize based on artistic merit, though maybe it’s not. Reflektor may actually be the most accurate portrayal of our world in its present state.

One cannot walk into one listen of the album and come up with a unifying theme—but perhaps that’s the point. It’s a postmodern musical text, fragmented much like what we consume by watching or reading now. There’s a bit of Greek mythology thrown in there, maybe some reflections (pun not intended) on the Internet, and maybe a bit of the skewering of show business. All have their place.

The title track, which also serves as the album opener, is a long and groove-filled number that also happens to have David Bowie doing backing vocals. It brings up one of Reflektor‘s many theses, this one seemingly about the inability to truly “connect” with people online. With Win Butler’s lyrics about “reflections of reflections” he brings to mind the idea of hyperrealism. This is the type of song Baudrillard would probably really dig. As we move onto “Normal Person,” there’s suddenly a sense that Arcade Fire is no longer talking about the Internet. You can practically see Win Butler sneering as he mutters something about the monitor being too high and thanking everybody for coming out before he asks “Do you like rock and roll music? ‘Cause I don’t know if I do.”

But then there’s songs like “Afterlife,” an absolute jam of a number that punctuates the general introspective gloom of “disc two,” which also features an 11-minute song that is half a flurry of electronics. So what’s really going on here? Who knows? And that’s partially what gives this album a large portion of “artistic merit.” This is a complex album, much like The Suburbs was, only complex in a different way. Art that is not challenging is often not as much fun to consume.

So yes, Reflektor is complex. But it’s also immediate, and that’s something that no other Arcade Fire album can say easily. As soon as the congas come in on “Reflektor” you know you’re going to either groove or decide this isn’t your thing. And that’s what’s so great about it! The punk-esque opening of “Joan of Arc” thrills; the flurry of guitar and drums on “Here Comes the Night Time” wastes no time in getting going. A majority of Arcade Fire’s songs take a little bit to really dig into, but almost every Reflektor track bucks this trend.

In other words: you can love or hate this album all you want; but you can’t deny that its immediacy and complexity make it a challenging work of art, and therefore quite worthy of winning another Polaris Prize this September.

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Review – “The Moon is Shining Our Way” – Kestrels

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis a0618721709_2

Fuzzy rock, punk and shoegaze are a handful of words that get tossed around whenever talk of Kestrels starts up—especially in relation to their second EP and fourth release, The Moon is Shining Our Way. It’s certainly an accurate depiction of the band, formerly based out of Halifax. The EP smoothly buzzes through the four songs on the release, adding credence to their belief that getting into the studio often helps fine-tune the music.

Of course, spending time in studio is one of the few times all three members of Kestrels are together—the band has a history of living far apart from each other with guitarist and vocalist Chad Peck currently in Nova Scotia, drummer Paul Brown in Toronto and bassist Devin Peck in Montreal. While they continue to work together via email between sessions, the band previously stunned when they tracked a song on their second album, A Ghost History, 23 times.

That kind of ear for perfection is evident on The Moon is Shining Our Way from the very first notes of “Eternal and Debased.” There are times when you can’t help but feel like things could be even more exciting if things weren’t as polished—an attitude that would blend nicely with the thrusting punk music melding with Peck’s mellow vocals. “Wide Eyes,” the shortest song on the release, offers up a more seamless blend of the band’s polarity. Peck’s vocals come in with more presence, holding the stage as the guitar builds up to a frenzied wail for the finale—letting the band live up to their punk reputation even as things start off slow to suit Peck.

The band’s energy is indisputable throughout the EP, with title-track “The Moon is Shining Our Way” diving into an instrumental break halfway through that showcases Brown’s ability to thrash out a beat as Peck proves there’s plenty of life in his playing despite his low-key vocals. It’s expected that things slow down on the fourth and final song—a fuzzy, echoing performance that ends up feeling more psychedelic and less attached to the rest of the album even if it is more suited to their shoegazing tendencies.

As things end on the hazy but gritty final number that feels more unified than what came before, I can’t help but speculate on how spending so much time apart has led the band to mixing together elements the way they do—even as I hope that the final song of the EP, as a sign of another album to come, won’t carry the band too far away from the pulse-racing punk they’re creating. It’s the kind of genre-defying performance that easily builds into something more.

Top Track: “Wide Eyes”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Not Alone” – Rose-Erin Stokes

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

Rose-Erin Stokes North Bay folk

A recent piece of analysis by the Economist promises to debunk all the myths surrounding the younger members of society. Oh yes, the entitled generation that never gets up off the couch? Yeah, the truth is somewhat more complicated than most trashy journalism is willing to uncover — apparently young people have got their act together and might even be doing a better job of not fucking up than their parents. On Toronto’s Youth Day, I find myself filled with hope for all the out of work, uninsured, climate changed rabble that I myself form a small, loud part of. I can’t help but feel that sultry, enthusiastic Ontarian Rose-Erin Stokes feels the same way.

Stokes has recorded a delightful EP with Not Alone. Her tunes track feelings of longing and disappointment, a youthful economy of lyrical content, if you will. The solitude of North Bay, ON comes shining through on the delicately articulated tracks. Repeatedly throughout the songs, a single relationship, in a single moment is picked at and probed until it reveals a truth. The song becomes a vacuum chamber, in which Stokes has placed a vital aspect of love and loss worthy of deep study.

String noise and atmospheric synth work collect within songs of direct communication on the album. Opener “If I Can’t Have Your Love” sets a tone of determination and starts off with a strong example of the intelligent production found on the record: the song is essentially a vocals and guitar heavyweight, yet the space for synthesizer and the appropriate punctuation of backing vocals is found and put into action, just so. It’s effects like these that transform a lyric with the potential for a downward emotional trajectory into a soaring introductory track.

Title track “Not Alone” is equally stirring. The song begins in a similarly muted fashion, with Stokes plucking away a “same old song” as mentioned in the track’s first lines. But very quickly, the sounds build into a chattering, surging number. Vocal work piles up, Eric Treleavan’s wonderful lead guitar and banjo join the party, and the shuffle of Ben Legett’s drums carry things in all the right directions. It might sound sappy at first, but with tasteful musical accompaniment, the line, “Don’t lose hope, you are not alone,” can come off as sounding unpretentious and wholeheartedly tender.

Maybe the music of the young today is any music that seeks a way forward through obstacles and challenges that seem unforgivably overbearing. Rose-Erin Stokes has such a collection of songs with the Not Alone EP. The music is moving, without trying too hard, and that’s just as noble as quiet confidence in a world that seems determined to write you off.

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Top Tracks: “Not Alone” ; “Stay” ; “Tonight”

 

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Review: “Hollow” – Zoo Owl

downloadreviewed by Elena Gritzan

It’s midnight. You’re standing in the middle of a forest, you don’t know how you got there, and the shadows dancing among the trees make it hard to tell which direction leads where. You think that you can smell a swamp in the distance. Your anxiety turns into fear as you hear rustling in the bushes to your left; you’ve never seen anything like the creature that emerges. It looks at you quizzically through its bright, glowing eyes before opening its mouth to reveal a fog of red light. You run as fast as you can, but you know: you’ve met the Zoo Owl.

If you’ve been attending shows regularly in Toronto over the past year, you may have seen this creature in action in many venues across the city. A Zoo Owl show is a theatrical experience, replete with lasers and those glowing-light goggles, and now the first album is here to demonstrate that the songs stand on their own incredibly well.

There’s “Twin Mirror”, which builds up slowly to its arpeggiated motif, pushing the level of atmosphere to maximum with bird noises and guttural vowels that accent the magnificently executed interplay between danceable sections and textural development. And “Nemesis”, which is as sinister and powerful as the deeply sung title suggests and has drum samples in all of the right places.

The different electronic styles that Zoo Owl plays with in each song all seem to come to him completely naturally, a perfect extension of the highly curated visual image. Yet I can imagine that each detail is highly thought out and carefully considered, which makes the practically flawless execution of the complicated layers of sounds all the more impressive.

This is the kind of album that m shout “yes!” at my computer screen when the songs twist and turn. It’s turned long subways rides into compelling adventures. Hollow has solidified Zoo Owl’s status as one of the most exciting projects to come out of the city in recent years. By the time you reach the end, singing along to the refrain of “Mayflower wilted”, you’ll be glad you discovered this magnificent new species.

Top Tracks: “Vantom”, “Twin Mirror”, really everything

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*

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Review – “Niizhwaaswo” – WHOOP-Szo

niizhwaasworeviewed by Michael Thomas

The noisy mountain has gone on quite a journey, musically and geographically. WHOOP-Szo has always been a band of two sides—on the one, a gentle folk-oriented band, while on the other, a noisy psych-rock band. Geographically, Adam Sturgeon traveled several provinces to the Arctic, where he ran a screen printing program for Inuit youth. The experiences shaped three albums, the first two released simultaneously.

Niizhwaaswo is the third and final installment documenting WHOOP-Szo’s time in the Arctic, but it’s also technically the first—it was recorded before the band relocated, though it was finished up north. Whereas Qallunaat and Odemin showed the band’s softer side, Niizhwaaswo is a brutal and gentle collage.

As is often the case with great unpredictable music, the two sides of the work are sometimes on their own but often bumping into each in the space of a song. In fact, if you want to be technical about it, there’s almost an even split between the folky and loud sides.

The first three songs  on the album are noisy as hell, beginning with “Boat Cave,” the song equivalent of being tossed into white water rapids with no life preserver. A cascade of loud guitar washes over you, as the drums speed and slow down seemingly at random. “CSG” can more easily be categorized in the psych-rock vein and wouldn’t sound out of place on WHOOP-sette while “Myeengun” resumes the brutal noise attack.

As a centrepiece, “Jan. 3rd” is beautiful and signals that this album isn’t all sonic punishment, with picked acoustic guitar, brushed drums and keyboard. “the through window” is also lovely in this way, like gathering in front of a campfire after a long day. There’s also “(ode to) Banjoanie,” a quick instrumental piece performed on the—you guessed it—banjo.

“Niizhwaaswi” is the bastard child of the two sounds of the band, morphing between folk and noise with little to no warning.

WHOOP-Szo’s time in the Arctic seems to have reopened the band’s penchant for introspection, and Niizhwaaswo shows that it’s possible to be brutal and soft at the same time.

Top Tracks: “Jan. 3rd”; “Niizhwaaswi”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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