Premiere: Dan Latner – “Bored”

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“I’m a freeborn man, but I’m also very bored.” – Dan Latner

Toronto singer-songwriter-funny man Dan Latner wrote most of the songs on his new album in Sri Lanka and spends his time travelling around Asia and Africa. Despite all of these seemingly exciting adventures, Latner named his album No Fun Intended. Done in a folk/bluegrass style, his latest single “Bored” captures the honest and hilarious approach he takes to music making.

In the perfectly matched video, an unenthusiastic Latner takes us sight-seeing, confusing onlookers in the meantime. In the final shot, Latner ends up back in Toronto and, with the CN Tower as his backdrop, shrugs as any good Torontonian does.

No Fun Intended is out now with all of the proceeds made until the end of the month going towards the redevelopment efforts in Nepal.

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Review – “Couldn’t Save This” EP – Terra

Couldn't Save This EP - Terrareview by Chris Matei

Terra are a post-punk trio/touring foursome hailing from Medicine Hat, AB. The cover of their Couldn’t Save This EP is equal parts feral energy, curious optical illusion and stark, strange intensity. This palette reflects across the soundscapes of its four tracks, all of which form a sort of love letter to the sometimes-hectic-others-melodic post-punk and new wave sounds of the 1980s and early 90s while making the most of those influences to let the band express their own ideas.

“I Fold” kicks things off on a highly energetic note, nimble fretwork pinging off the metallic surfaces of Chris Kessler’s vocals. There’s a sense here of early-period Interpol sped up twice as fast as usual (or more,) all growling bass figures and hard-driving devilishness – and some toothsome soloing as well.

The title track, though more laid-back in nature, sees the return of those deftly mobile guitar chops. It’s the most modern-voiced of the songs here, though Kessler sounds as if his voice is emanating from a faraway place, a speakerphone on the other end of a line located in a strange world. The deeply pocketed rhythm section thrums through the verses before adding a buzzy sweet synth lick over the chorus, the lyrics of which intone “Jesus Christ couldn’t save this…” before kicking into a frothing bridge and outro that leaves the listener hanging for more. It’s easily the EP’s high point.

“Forest Lawn” is spazzy, distorted, hyperenergetic, and raw: all weird, short and wiry. Its fuzzy shredding, cutting solo lead licks and kooky vocals stand between British classic punk and Devo’s “Gut Feeling” hopped up on homebrew nitrous oxide.

“Incurable Condition” sticks to the fuzz-wreathed new wave aesthetic for another short and hooky burst – just over a minute and a half. The instrumentation is upbeat and energetic, and genuinely catchy: the song’s strangely robotic lyrics and crunchy energy end up contrasting with a distinctly appealing pop-tinged structure.

This EP will certainly appeal to fans of the kinds of bands that graced well-worn compilation tapes and lovingly assembled zine pages in the strange and wild days before “alternative rock.” Despite this,  Terra are not a nostalgia act: if Couldn’t Save This is any indication, they are pushing forward in interesting ways as well.

Top Tracks: “Couldn’t Save This,” “Incurable Condition”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Gloo” – Slow Girl Walking

reviewed by Jack Derricourt

slowgirl

Pounded pure by wet metal, sheet shirking shivers glad-given and shorn for all ears. No I haven’t been huffing glue. I’ve been huffing Gloo, the new EP by Edmonton shoegazers Slow Girl Walking, and trying very hard to put it into words, thank you very much.

The EP is prim, filled with the right stuff for any ground-out distortion fan. The three piece highlight nothing in particular within the sound, forcing all elements through the muck until the drums, bass, synth, and guitar swims in thick, oozing crunch.

The tunes themselves enfold likely, yet timeless, shoegaze directions. “October” sounds nothing like October — in my mind, at least. There’s chiming guitar chord work and shuffling drum and tambourine galore. The happily beaten mood is cheering, but descends into something weirder by the end. Closer “Tantrum” is a terrorizing piece of filth, a squidgy, psychedelic river of sound that fades full into oblivion. And the “Intro” is just that.

Why would you name your biggest pop hit after the largest rodent on the face of the earth? Cause it’s fucking fun, that’s why. “Capybara” is a drifting dreamer of a tune, capable of sending listeners into fits of delight. A very hypnotic break down filled with snare cracks and deluded lyrical twists is the surprise in such a heavy dirge. The descending guitar melody is a keeper if I’ve ever heard one. There’s so much elementary rock stuff on this release. It’s chewy and meaningful. The Slow Girl Walking gang know how to balance their song structures.

These fellas from Edmonton reminded me a lot of ACAB Rocky. They sound young and in love with their guitars, drones, and sonic bric a brac. We should all hope to be so joyous in our utterances, and so full of Gloo.

Top Track: “Capybara”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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NXNE: Jennifer Castle, JOOJ, Michael Rault, Animalia

by Michael Thomas

On Saturday, I realized 8/15 of the bands I saw during NXNE were from Toronto. But who cares, Toronto is awesome.

Animalia

Animalia

Animalia at the Painted Lady began my night. Jill Krasnicki’s music is fairly simple, but she turns it into something monumental with the physicality of it. With just backing tracks, Krasnicki conveys the weight of each song with her elastic vocals. From belting it out to drawing out her syllables, she conveys a wide range of emotions. And then there’s the fact that she doesn’t stay still–walking into the audience is no problem for her. Despite her saying mid-set that voice was starting to crack, from an audience perspective there was no trouble at all.

Michael Rault

Michael Rault

There must be some sort of yearly mandate for NXNE to feature Michael Rault. All the better for Toronto, because Rault always reliably puts on a good show. Saturday night at the Garrison was no different. His slick, slacker-garage-rock always feels fresh no matter how many times he and his band play it. Plenty of psychedelic riffs guided the audience through a packed set (it helps having short songs), and Rault always makes for a reliable anchor. As per nearly always, he ended the set with the wonderful “Suckcess,” which had the added punch of a wicked few minutes of pure instrumental jamming.

JOOJ

JOOJ

It was hard to tell at first what to expect from JOOJ, the duo of Sook-Yin Lee and Adam Litovitz. The set began with a wordless piece consisting of piano for Litovitz and a long tube for Lee, and then Lee began dancing. Then the equipment failed and they did the song again. It was a tad awkward, but the set picked up again as they launched into the meat of their set. Litovitz played the keys for most of it while Lee sang songs with dramatic lyrics, occasionally even moving into spoken word. She also had an array of instrumentals, from a wood block to mini-piano to a woodwind of some kind. The 45-minute set took many twists and turns and kept everyone guessing.

Jennifer Castle

Jennifer Castle

If only Jennifer Castle could have played last night’s set at a venue other than the Garrison. Her set had all the hallmarks of a Castle performance: crisp guitar playing, gorgeous lyrics and vocals and of course, an enthusiastic crowd to witness it. Only, there was major sound bleedthrough from the front room, so while Castle was playing a quietly brilliant song on stage, some shitty house music was intermingling. That aside, if you could focus your ears on Castle you would have heard great songs like “Working for the Man” or the uplifting “Sailing Away.”

That’s it for my NXNE experience this year.

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NXNE: Doldrums, Fresh Snow, Foxes in Fiction

by Michael Thomas

On Friday, Atlas Sound was the big draw to Lee’s Palace, but as you can probably guess, what drew me to the venue were the Canadian acts who preceded him.

Foxes in Fiction

Foxes in Fiction

Starting the night off was Ontario-born, Brooklyn-based Foxes in Fiction. The duo of Warren Hildebrand and Emily Reo specialized in long, intricate and introspective pop songs, and also weren’t afraid of getting loud when needed. After setting a tone with gentle keys and warm guitar, the enthusiastic audience was more or less spellbound. The softness eventually gave way to some loud guitar work, and Hildebrand said “that was loud” after playing two added-volume songs. Before long, the set had finished to a seemingly endless round of applause. Lee’s, however, isn’t always known for its tremendous sound, so some of the vocals got lost among the noise.

Fresh Snow

Fresh Snow

Much like the Toronto Blue Jays as of late, Toronto’s Fresh Snow crush it every time they play. Call their music whatever you want–krautrock, postrock, whatever–but anyone can agree that they amp up the good old-fashioned rock and roll up to about a 25 on a scale of 1 to 10. Thunderous guitars, dizzying keys and meticulous drums elevate their music to incalculable levels. At first it seemed like the audience didn’t know what to make of the four, but before long the band’s ferocity won everyone over. As per usual, Fresh Snow never allowed a quiet moment, even when the drummer at one point needed a new piece for his kick drum. The band is always seamless and can communicate their needs to each other and the sound tech without a single spoken word.

Doldrums

Doldrums

And finally (for me, anyway), Doldrums sparked a frenzied dance party. Airick Woodhead was enthusiastic about playing Lee’s Palace, a venue apparently only a block from where he grew up, and that enthusiasm translated to his set. Credit can be split evenly between Woodhead’s bounciness and the excellent drumming that made the set so appealing. The songs gravitate between industrial sounds on one end to more melodic stuff on the other, meeting in the middle in completely unexpected ways. It’s safe to say Woodhead has found his groove.

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NXNE: Vogue Dots, Mardeen, Glory Glory, Walrus

by Michael Thomas

On Thursday at NXNE, it was nearly impossible to find a showcase that WASN’T stacked with talent. For the night, I decided to cast my lot on Halifax, specifically the Halifax Pop Explosion showcase at Handlebar.

Glory Glory

Glory Glory

I arrived to first see Glory Glory, a four-piece who have been kicking around for years and putting out catchy pop-rock music. While I’ve seen them live previously, on Thursday it seems like they had just graduated from the school of catchy hooks. Every song had a killer bass groove or fun bit of keys, and it worked well with lead vocalist Adam Warren’s happy demeanour. After many grooves, a later song also showed they have strong group vocals, and it would have been great to hear more of those. They breezed through a tight set (minus measing up their penultimate song, which they laughed off) and finished with a very synth-y Carmine Appiece cover.

Walrus

Walrus

After the tight hooks of Glory Glory, things got a bit more free-flowing with the psychedelic jams of Walrus. The band is constantly tinkering with their sound and here they were fully brazen—the type of bass that gets you nodding your head, furious drumming, virtuosic guitars, you name it. The band never settled on one rhythm or tempo for too long, sometimes abruptly changing pace within a song. The songs constantly kept the audience guessing and was an injection of some real energy into the room. It turns out the audience wasn’t the only group having fun—vocalist Justin Murphy said “This is our best North By ever.”

Mardeen

Mardeen

Mardeen are a beloved Maritimes act, and the fierce love for them on the east coast was quite apparent in Toronto as well. They specialize in especially emotional lyrics backed by powerful pop-rock, and the magnificently bearded Matthew Ellis was a compelling front man. After several songs (mixing old and new material) their set hit a fever pitch with “Telephone,” the song Mo Kenney covered on her recent album that sounds even better coming from the band who wrote it. Harris announced the last song, “Silver Fang,” as one that will “haunt you,” and while the upbeat song is more likely to make you dance, it will haunt your brain.

Vogue Dots

Vogue Dots

Finally, the night ended with some intricate electronic music courtesy of Vogue Dots. The duo was in full control of their set right down to the lighting, with Tynan Dunfield on most of the programming and Babette Howard on vocals. The beautiful beats were quick to get people dancing, and while Howard’s vocals were a little hard to discern early on, she quickly made sure those vocals soared by the second song. The dance party was in full swing by the fourth song, a new one called “Florals” (which will be part of an upcoming release) but the next song sealed the deal and had the whole (very sweaty) room moving. They endeared themselves to the crowd even more with their crystalline cover of Cousins’ “Thunder” before playing one more song—the crowd wanted even more.

Halifax rules.

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Review – “Sarah + 1: A Tribute to Sarah Vaughan” – Delilah

reviewed by Anna Alger

Delilah coaxes listeners into her heart with smooth vocal stylings on new EP, Sarah + 1: A Tribute to Sarah Vaughan. The Toronto based singer has chosen her most loved Vaughan covers to perform, and her respect and adoration of the music is clearly communicated by this collection of songs.

The EP opens with “September in the Rain,” featuring bright horns, soft keys, and classic tumbling jazz drums. Delilah’s voice floats over the music with a sultry air. The poetic lyricism of the song is enforced by her delivery. “Just Friends” has a more relaxed, vocally led delivery. The piano ornamentation cascades at the ends of phrases, accentuating Delilah’s voice.

“Whatever Lola Wants” is full of teasing horns and vocals along with a wandering bassline. Delilah’s vocals have an attitude that is in line with the domineering lyrics. During “Smile,” curious embellishments gently wrap around Delilah’s light, yet soulful voice. Melancholy but with positivity hinted at in the lyrics, she strikes a balance between these feelings in her performance.

Although brief, Delilah’s new EP accentuates her strengths as a vocalist and storyteller, proving the compatibility between her vocals and the genre of jazz. Relaxing, enveloping, and delicately articulated, Delilah is surely a vocalist to listen out for.

Sarah + 1: A Tribute to Sarah Vaughan is available now via Groove United Records.

Top Track: “September in the Rain”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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NXNE: DIANA, Prince Innocence, Bernice, Ginla

by Michael Thomas

While the first night of many multi-day festivals can be light on worthwhile choices, NXNE had a surprising array of options Wednesday night. One involved plenty of Toronto power with a dash of Montreal and took over the Drake.

Ginla got things started

Ginla got things started

Ginla, the aforementioned dash of Montreal flavour, began the night. While they had just gotten off a 12-hour bus ride from New York, they certainly didn’t sleepwalk through their set. Ginla songs are multi-headed beasts. They start out with plenty of guitar and electronic weirdness, but instantly become more melodic and poppy as the drums kick in. Vocals soar amid bright arrangements before the song kicks into extended instrumentals. The songs are journeys unto themselves, so it’s no wonder they’re each so long. The final song ended on a few minutes of extended guitar solo over frantic drumming to bring the set to a strong finish.

Bernice softened things

Bernice softened things

After the somewhat intense pace of Ginla, naturally things took a turn for the soft with Bernice. This band must have somehow formed in the clouds, because their airy, smooth music seems so effortless. Robin Dann guides the group with her impressive vocals and lyrics about black bears, watching a plane in the sky and a man who is the moon, and the music comes from samples, electronic hiss, drums and just a smattering of guitar. Most of the set flew by like it was part of a dream (give or take a bit of stage banter about Paula Deen videos on YouTube), but the final song took on a more tropical theme with the aptly named “St. Lucia.” It almost seems unfair to Toronto that Bernice doesn’t play more shows; they may singlehandedly unite Toronto in song.

Prince Innocence plays in darkness

Prince Innocence plays in darkness

Prince Innocence changed gears again, offering a bit more dramatic flair both visually and with their music. Playing in low light, they brought their own visuals—a guy with a camera broadcast the stage…onto the stage, only the picture distorted for a very surreal backdrop. Musically, it’s a lot more simple—Josh McIntyre on electronics and Talvi Faustmann on vocals. Her icy delivery makes the slow jams easy to bob your head along to, and the duo’s sound is perhaps best exemplified by the smoothness of “I Don’t Care,” a title that got a hearty cheer from the audience. The short set wasn’t all gloom, though. After two songs, they played a Suicide cover to drastically change the mood, albeit temporarily.

Diana capped off the night

Diana capped off the night

DIANA has been relatively quiet as of late (working hard on LP2, according to their Facebook page) but the time away from shows hasn’t at all subtracted from their presence live. They began their set with four songs from Perpetual Surrender before pulling out a gorgeous cover of The Blue Nile’s “A Walk Across the Rooftops” before playing three new songs.

Part of the band’s appeal is the tight rhythm section—dynamic drumming, multiple lines of guitars—but there’s also a magnetism to Carmen Elle, who picks up and puts down a guitar more times than anyone can count. Occasionally, she’ll absolutely shred on said guitar, and in between songs she’s always hilarious (only she could ask a crowd already pressed up to the front to come closer, only to say “It’s the Drake Underground. Let’s be real”).

The band’s new material is comfortably in line with what’s come before, so it’s safe to say this preview of new material will lead to an equally strong album.

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Review – “Huddle” – Klarka Weinwurm

reviewed by Laura Stanleya1479187409_16

There’s something irresistible about a well crafted garage-rock song. Their instrumental roughness makes them feel emotionally raw, charming, and the upmost honest. The imperfect platform is sometimes exactly what is needed to express those darker feelings. Each song from Klarka Weinwurm’s new EP Huddle blend all of that good stuff that comes with garage-rock (or in this case garage-pop-rock) making this an irresistible EP. 

In Huddle’s opening track “Tears for Gears,” Weinwurm uses a deceitfully sweet disguise (her vocals) to deliver the heart of the EP – “I try to keep it all to myself and drive the other way.” Its bouncy rhythm cannot jar the importance of the lyric. Weinwurm tries to keep her feelings, and what she feels are important moments, to herself but instead shares them with us. These sentiments are not hidden amongst the sounds of the three piece band, their distorted sludge is not opaque, but exist in the muddled form they were originally felt in.  

In “The Planet” we learn that “afternoons were never good for breakups” and of the relating temptation to “waste it all.” Only changing its steady rhythm slightly, the final moments of the song move away from these desperate feelings into some clarity as Weinwurm finally realizes, “there’s so much doubt, so much clutter, gotta figure it out.”

“Deathrow Tull” (excellent song title) also treads on these feelings relating to romantic complications. Thanks to the fiercer guitar playing, the track is the darkest of the EP. With the repetition of the final verse, “play it from the start, hold it in your hands, I am not looking for a date,” this aggression is better understood.

Spend a bit of time with it and the closer “Thunderstrike” is actually very charming. Whether its a real storm or not, Weinwurm sings of love and protection from “the sparks.” Her final poppy warning, “don’t go swimming in the pond, you’re a target for such luck,” is a very warming sentiment to close on.

Blemishes and all, Huddle is beautiful.

Top Tracks: Tears For Gears”; “Thunderstrike”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Purity Ring, Braids and Born Gold – The Vogue Theatre

purity-ring

Purity Ring

by Chris Matei

Anyone doubting the range and quality of the Canadian electronic scene would have been quickly silenced had they shown up at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre on Monday night. Three of the best future-pop acts in the country shared a bill that spanned the sonic gamut from spazzy to serene, thunderous to tremulous.

There’s an interesting kinship at play here: Purity Ring’s Megan James and Corrin Roddick have a longstanding friendship with the members of Braids, and were once part of Gobble Gobble along with Born Gold’s Cecil Frena. The latter group set out to open the night, treating early arrivals to a burst of energy, sound and light.

The band blasted out their blend of frenetic pop through a synaesthetic landscape of illuminated pads, nicknack percussive esoterica, glitchy shredding and wild legging-clad dance moves. There’s a tinker-toying whimsy to Born Gold’s songs, each one a little nucleus of hyper-pop frisson. Frena’s charming stage presence and fondness for uptempo digital hodgepodge contrasts with his often introspective and complex approach to lyricism and songwriting, making for a fun and beguiling mix. While focused on material from their more recent LPs, the band’s set also took a trip back to 2011’s Bodysongs for an euphoric rendition of “Lawn Knives.”

Next up were Montreal (by way of Calgary)’s Braids. Their recently released Deep in the Iris LP was just long-listed for the 2015 Polaris Prize – a bit of recognition for which their debut full-length Native Speaker was also considered back in 2011. In light of the recent release, Braids’ entire set consisted of material from Deep in the Iris – not that I could complain, as is easily one of my favourite albums released so far this year! On both Native Speaker and its follow-up, Flourish // Perish, Braids produced dreamlike and ambient soundscapes that swirled and drifted around echo-laden lyrics to dizzying effect, conjuring both ethereal chills and intimate closeness with equal dexterity. Deep in the Iris has made a fundamental shift, pulling Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s dynamic vocals front and centre and letting them guide the emotional flow of each song. Deft live manipulations of reverb, reverse effects, sampling, grain-shifting and delay let the band ratchet up the complexity as needed, letting songs build from their fragile, whispery base structures into veritable skyscrapers of drums, vocals, chords and pads. Set highlights included some stellar work behind the drum kit during “Warm Like Summer” and a downright fierce performance of “Miniskirt.”

Much has been made in the musical press of Purity Ring’s sophomore album, another eternity, as an object on which to pin the band’s ability to progress beyond an expertly defined sonic niche. Could a band whose debut spawned a legion of imitators produce an innovative follow-up with as much depth and vibe as its predecessor? In a live setting, the band seemed not to care for the distinction between old material and new: they have refined their sound and live show from a hauntingly warped, vulnerable take on electro-R&B into a slick, multidimensional expression of synthetic pop. Moreover, they took the stage projecting more cool, confidence and crowd-capturing poise than I could have thought possible when I saw them play a dimly lit set at the comparatively poor-sounding Venue nightclub, just across the street from the Vogue, in the bygone days of 2012. More than any sonic differences, it was this new sense of dynamism and onstage power that really made this set a testament to Purity Ring’s progression as a band.

Framed by a forest of lights and a backlit moonscape which echoed the glowing bass drum that Megan James would often pound during the more emphatic moments of the band’s early live shows, along with the light-up drum/sampler/crystal pedestal that has become their trademark, the duo charged right into the speaker-swallowing bass groove of “stranger than earth.” Songs from another eternity were noticeable for their embrace of toothier-edged dance synths, bigger drums and a distinctly sweet crystallization of harmony-rich pop moments when matched with their Shrines-era counterparts. Even those, however, vibrated with dark intensity, veiled menace and not a hint of staleness (as well as their own colour scheme, leaning heavily on shifting greens and purples where eternity embraced beams of silver light and redder hues.) James even got up on a seriously high perch to deliver hammer blows to that big round moon-drum at the set’s apex.

All that was missing was a Danny Brown appearance.

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