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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Review – “Walkabout EP” – Strange Fires

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

Strange FiresThere is a land, where the rock and roll is just. There is a place where the four-four beat never gets old, smelling fresher than plastic money. There is a forest of four track cassette tape out there, warbling in the wind. There is a city full of Strange Fires. Edmonton!

The new stalwart destination in my mind when it comes to pop music has produced yet another class, Canadian act. Patrick Earles, lead maverick behind Strange Fires, is capable of harnessing psychic shifts with aplomb. He produced the first EP in 2012 all on his lonesome on a Fostex tape machine — make sure you check out the brilliant sounds of “Tidal Wave.” That release felt like a postcard of musical appreciation compared to The Walkabout EP, and the new album smacks of thoughtful exploration. Full on guitar arrangement and heavier, pronounced drumming fills out the earlier sound of the older recordings to make the Strange Fires collage expansive and alive on first listen.

“But he can’t sing,” said the blonde man at the bar, snorting his own moustache in with a long inhalation of wheat beer.

“So what?” Jack replied earnestly. “That’s what people said about Mick Jagger and Ian Curtis. You’re really going to write off a group’s music just because the vocalist has a different vibe than Miley Cyrus?”

The moustache stages a riot and strips itself away from its meathead of a host, voyaging off to find more openminded pastures.

And scene.

Yes, the vocal delivery takes some getting used to. Earles’ use of echo on his voice adds a sideways, psych edge to his deadpan delivery. But while the melody might lag, the phrasing is perfect: “Walkabout” features beautiful Beach Boys vocal hooks, paired up with chill, psychic grooves of guitar. You feel him stretching up to a varied approach with the yelps spliced into “Friends,” alongside the brutal bitterness of the song’s lyrical content.

Two pleasant features of the past EP return: the space voyage samples seen on the initial Strange Fires release return on “Interlude,” a wonderful change of pace in the middle of the record; and the dreamy, pop heavyweight, “Spring Break,” gets a new pair of shoes, with more guitar clout and a shinier polish. Both nice revisitations.

The last two songs on the EP are deep ruts of guitar and shimmering effects, coupled to ravines of depressed, introspective lyrics. “Walkabout” is an “I just wanna have something to do” kind of mini-epic, perfect for the malaise-minded listener. And “Departures” seems very poignant for a group that would disband merely two weeks after putting the finishing touches on the EP.

But be not afraid, dear reader. I’m sure that Patrick Earles is out there now, formulating new tunes to croon, stalking through the Edmonton evening. If the songs composed on his upcoming walkabouts are anything like the most recent ones, we’re in for a treat.

Top Tracks: “Walkabout” ; “Interludes” ; “Friends”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Visual/Audible Hoots: Holy Hum, Illitry, Dirty Frigs, Coronado

Holy Hom – The Unknown

This year, Andrew Lee of In Media Res formed a new creation, Holy Hum. Much like his previous work, Holy Hum appears to go for eerie, haunting material as showcased in a rather unusual form—rather than a single or music video, the band has debuted a 17-minute short film. It takes place in Anacortes, Washington, in The Unknown, a recording studio owned by Phil Elverum (Mt. Eerie). It’s a fitting place for the band—Lee has been heavily influenced by Mt. Eerie’s sound. The film gives little snippets of what can be expected from the band, but you can be sure you’ll hear more and more as the band gets closer to releasing an album.

Illitry – “Runaways”

Hamilton’s Illitry continue to drop a series of singles that really make us want a full album. The latest entry is “Runaways,” a song full of crystalline synths and Vocoder-aided vocals. Accompanying it is a black-and-white video, directed by Brooks Reynolds, that purports to be inspired by Quentin Tarantino. We follow two young women (sisters? friends?) who get into trouble before turning things around in a twist ending. Make sure to follow it to the end.

Dirty Frigs – “Osiris”

For a healthy dose of “what the fuck did I just watch?” look no further than this new video and single from Dirty Frigs. The video is a directorial collaboration by photographer Laura Lynn Petrick, Jenny Warne (Heretical Objects Collective) and Dirty Frigs’ own Bri Salmena. Prepare to be assaulted by creepy smiley faces, violently crushed food, VHS-era static and a whole bunch of unidentifiable images. It goes well with the grungy guitars and yelled vocals for a truly disorienting experience.

Coronado – “A Line We Never Drew”

give up nothing volume 1For a good time, call Coronado. Seriously, these guys are always a blast. A year-and-a-half or so after their Remain Calm EP they’re ready to release the Give Up Nothing EP Vol. 1 on July 19th. The first single, “A Line We Never Drew,” is signature Coronado—group vocals, funky keys and guitar and lively drumming for this pop-disco sparkler. If the entire EP is as good as this song, we’ll have a winner.

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Review – “Sans mer” – Reliefs

by Eleni Armenakis a1509104481_2

There are bouts in an avid listener’s life when everything begins to sound the same—generic drips from your tongue like the critic you swore you wouldn’t be, but that desperate urgency to hear something innovative keeps clambering until it’s finally met with something that defies expectation. It’s a times like that when bands like Montreal’s Reliefs make themselves most welcome.

Describing themselves as post-rock and indie rock, trio David Lévesque, Alexandre McGraw and Maxime Sollier don’t initially seem like they fit the bill. As the guitar kicks up a jaunty rhythm and the drums march in on the first track of their debut EP, Sans mer, it isn’t immediately obvious what about the band has moved past the genre. And yet as the ears continue to await the long-expected next step, Reliefs holds off—there’s no first verse, or a second. The instrumental music instead continues to build to its first crescendo.

It’s a simple change, but one that makes the band stand out for their ability to so easily divert expectations. The rarity of an instrumental indie rock album immediately sets the young band apart—even as jazz infusions into rock, pop and even electric are making the resurgence more common elsewhere. Instead, Reliefs explain in their bio that their intent is to poetically evoke the spaces and landscapes that inspire them—the kind of mission that forces the listener to pay attention to what so easily becomes background noise as we pick up the lyrics.

Opener “L’espoir renaît dans la mégapole” tracks this attempt as it journeys through the city, moving through the visionary streets with changing tempos. The slow notes of the intro are betrayed by the growing pace of the drums, from observation to exploration as everything comes together and crashes into the audible recreation of a place and time for a new, shared experience.

More inwardly gazing is “Il neige à Montreal.” From the muffled, subdued first notes it’s a personal experience of isolation—beautifully rendered in the band’s video for the song. From bursts of energy to moments of near-silence to a flurry of activity, it transitions through those internal changes with a sense of unity, ending on a single, upward note of optimism.

The final and third act isn’t as tied to space as much as it is with time. The darkly tinted “Le début de la fin” adds gravity with its pattern of reverb, cold breaks and building intensity. It stands in contrast to the previous eight minutes, stripped of the playfulness that encapsulated both those soundscapes. Instead, there’s a sense of urgency as it moves into the final minute of the EP, trying to squeeze every last note out of the time that has been given.

Top track: “L’espoir renaît dans la mégapole”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Lonesome Ghosts” – Blue Moon Marquee

lonesome ghostsreviewed by Michael Thomas

There are two ways a band can be considered “good.” They can either be great at what they do (read: a particular genre, like chamber folk or psychedelic rock) or they can be a band that wholly reinvents the way music should sound like. While the former is often not as interesting to hear, one of the exceptions to this maxim is Blue Moon Marquee, formerly AW Cardinal.

Cardinal first came to the blog’s attention with the excellent Stainless Steel Heart, which fully revived a genre that has influenced a slew of modern music—the old timey blues, the type you’d hear in the Mississippi Delta. While the name of the act has changed, the music definitely hasn’t, and that’s a good thing.

The band itself never goes too heavy on the instrumentals on Lonesome Ghosts—it’s usually a pleasant mix of brushed drums, double bass and keys, with the odd bit of strings. It creates what the band calls “Gypsy blues,” which combines blues song structures with a touch of alt-country. The blues is very apparent, as the song arrangements often use the twelve-bar blues structure popularized during the 20s and 30s. At times, the material seems to be winking back to that era, especially in the stellar “Trouble’s Calling,” with references to the devil who seems to be riding a “dead black horse.”

Otherwise, the songs touch on standard blues subjects—alcohol (“Scotch Whiskey”), women (“Gypsy’s Life” and “Sugar Dime”) and the workman’s life (“Pipeliner Blues,” a cover of a Moon Mullican song). Cardinal’s raspy vocals anchor the songs to the listener’s attention.

Just like Stainless Steel Heart, the song lengths are kept in check and breeze by in a flurry of bass and keys, but there’s at least a few songs where the songs take on a slightly different tone. “Bishop Street” is another highlight, which gives off a kind of happiness that is, well, the opposite of the blues. The title track, which also closes the album, is forward-looking optimistic despite the spooky subject.

The band’s self-described “Small town Alberta” home base should be glad to have this band, which glances backward for inspiration but remains thoroughly, thoroughly forward.

Top Tracks: “Trouble’s Calling”; “Bishop Street”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Lotsa Thoughts” – Man Made Hill

a1748008636_2reviewed by Elena Gritzan

The first time I saw Man Made Hill play a show, he covered his face in shiny silver face paint. The second time, he paired his vocals with the sole sound of a sander scraping across a drum. While he has a minimal presence on the Internet, it quickly became apparent that Randy Gange’s Man Made Hill project is a pervasive, inventive, and downright amazing part of music in Toronto.

Lotsa Thoughts, the most recent offering for the prolific creator of “existential disco”, is impressively strong. It certainly is filled with lots of thoughts – swelling to the size of 21 songs and 58 minutes – but the thoughts sound so refreshingly new that it keeps attention spans intact. The production is deliciously lo fi, leaving it sounding like transmissions over an imperfect connection from another dimension.

Each bite-sized song is built around a repetitive phrase that undulates in such a way to become infectious. This is first obvious on “Subtle Scum”, a song that plays on its title by creating a small disharmony between a palatable beat and dissonant punctuating synth chords, though in continues to varying degrees on each song of the album.

There are playful lyrics everywhere, from instructions to “nod your head and say yeah” to the chorus of single “Constant Touching”: “I want every part of my body touching every part of your body.” It’s a sexy sentiment at first, but when you start to think about it, it’s actually slightly off in its physical impossibility.

His vocal delivery spreads between acerbic and aggressive (“Wretched Seed”) to light and fun-loving (“Globe Pit”). The latter song is especially entertaining, bringing to mind a mental image of a childhood bouncy-ball pit. But with inflatable globes! That’s certainly a place that I want to visit.

In fact, the entirety of Lotsa Thoughts creates a surreal and engrossing universe that you’d do well to spend some time in.

Top Tracks: “Constant Touching”, “Globe Pit”, “Lotsa Thoughts”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Mòn” – Appalaches

reviewed by Laura Stanley a3629785216_2

Montreal all-instrumental band Appalaches brand themselves using two sentences: “We are Appalaches. We are loud.” Bursting with hearty rock epics, the honesty of these two sentences certainly rings true in the four piece band’s debut album, Mòn.

In these days where instrumental bands like the even louder Shooting Guns or hip-hop infused jazz trio BadBadNotGood are on the Polaris Music Prize long list, it’s becoming more apparent that the country is full of talented all-instrumental bands pushing genre boundaries. The Appalaches are an example of such talent. If you are not already tuning into these creative expressions, you better get on it.

Despite the loudness, many of Appalaches’ songs have a languid quality about them. By that I don’t mean that they are weak and weary, they are the opposite, but rather they feel unhurried. With just five songs timing in at over forty minutes, each number gives Appalaches room to sprawl out. It’s in the band’s ability to stretch that allows the versatility of their soundscape to really shine.

“Spotari,” the over nine minute long opener, begins with very warm tones; an afternoon drive on a summer’s day would go well with the song’s opening minutes. But it’s around the three minute mark where the intensity kicks up. In an explosion of sound that weaves in and out of the rest of the song, Appalaches flex their ear-splitting capabilities. Shredding the nice picturesque summer’s drive I described earlier along the way. 

Beginning with some similarly light tones, the band’s shortest number, Nōmse, feels no less complex and drawn-out compared to its album mates. Bookended by a great guitar riff that sounds as if it could be echo off mountainous walls (a nod to the band’s name?), Appalaches is clearly not afraid to add some light to their gloomier sounds. 

While all of the songs have strong qualities, the final track, “Soleicare,” carries with it something exceptional. Perhaps it is the fact that it is place at the end of the record, making it the big finale, but each note seems grander. Pushed along by a strong base line, the power of the song builds to the six minute mark where something special happens. Appalaches allows listeners to take a quick breath, and you are going to need it, as a quiet moment of stray guitar notes briefly takes hold of the song. On the other side of the quietness, a wall of sound is unleashed as the final minutes of the album are pure chaos of blissful noise. 

Appalaches’ Mòn gives even more proof that you should always make time for instrumental soundscapes to take hold of your mind.  

(What gorgeous album artwork to boot!)

Top Tracks: “Soleicare”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good) 

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Review – “Sheer Luxury” – The Lonely Parade

sheer luxuryreviewed by Michael Thomas

Last month, the results of apparently eight months of work with four bands led to the release of several albums. Not only was this a great idea for releasing music, but it also pulled the spotlight on some great talent from Peterborough, a town not particularly known for its indie scene.

One of the bands that took part in this adventure was the Lonely Parade, three girls who play exceedingly catchy and clean pop. Sheer Luxury was born from their efforts, and is a total breath of fresh air.

Charlotte Dempsey, Augusta Veno and Anwyn Climenhage know first and foremost to keep their songs short. It makes their songs inherently more memorable—not that the songs aren’t memorable on their own merits. The simple range of instruments weave insanely catchy melodies, and nearly every song has at least one quotable lyric. Better yet, every song seems to be skewering something or someone, and lyrics about that are always super fun to hear.

Crucially, the band doesn’t let one particular talent (witty lyric-writing) overshadow another (catchy melodies). Opener “Empty Cure” takes a bit before Dempsey’s vocals come in, allowing the listener to get lost in her funky bass playing and Veno’s simple electric guitar notes. “She Can Wait” sports sunny, surf-rock guitar hooks with lyrics like “A painted face doesn’t hide what you’re harbouring inside/What are you trying to prove?”

When the band leads towards punk the fun increases tenfold. “My Mom” is one of the album’s standouts, telling the hilarious story of a 23-year-old wannabe punk-rocker hitting on the singer’s 49-year-old mother at a punk show. Or the minor-chord-heavy “Sad Life,” a series of rapid-fire proclamations about a life not wanted: “Don’t wanna grow up/Don’t wanna get a medical degree/Fancy cars are shit/I won’t drive them they’ll drive me.”

Punk culture and overachievers aren’t the only things the Lonely Parade take aim at—”Fake Break” eviscerates religion and its ability to devolve people, while “Tip of an Iceburg,” with its laid-back guitar and casual drums, gives hipsters a few punches in the face. “You were nothing before it was cool/Tip of an iceburg, you’re such a fool,” the song begins, and later speeds up the tempo for a sweet guitar solo later on.

Peterborough is starting to look more and more like an awesome place to be, and it’s the young talent—like Watershed Hour and now Lonely Parade—that are starting to really put the place on the map.

Top Tracks: “My Mom”; “Sad Life”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Dial Tone” – Steve Adamyk Band

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis unnamed-3

Ottawa’s Steve Adamyk Band had more than one new thing to boast about after completing their fourth full-length album. While the band is declaring Dial Tone their “garage rock masterpiece,” it’s also the first time the band has released an LP that has the same line up as the one that came before.

It’s an accomplishment lead Steve Adamyk had been hoping for since the band’s inception—having long grown frustrated with lackluster commitment in other projects. This time around, as the group headed to Oakland, CA to record with Matthew Melton (Warm Soda, Bare Wires), Davey Quenselle, Dave Forcier and Sebastian Godin were back for another turn in the studio along with guests Melton and Danielle Agnew (Primitive Hearts).

Having categorized their full-length releases as an evolution from pop with Forever Won’t Wait to punk on Third, the latest strips away some of the punchy in-and-out from their more punk-driven releases without losing an appreciation for short, octane-fuelled tracks that know not to overstay their welcome. The hints of pop punk are still dribbled throughout Dial Tone, appearing in surprising places like “Suicide,” a darkly named track that brings up the familiar urge to get moving that comes with any new music from the quartet.

Other tracks, like “Crash Course in Therapy” and “You’re the Antidote,” offer the staple garage rock you’d expect. But wedged between those tracks are a handful of songs where the band finds a way to fuse their three distinct sounds in a four-song journey that blends pop and punk with their new clean-cut direction.

“M.R.I.” steadily plods through the intro before plunging into a racing chorus, adding a hypnotic twist to the way Adamyk belts out his fuzzy vocals. Coming out of that crashing finale is “Last In Town,” which opens with the vaguely tongue-in-cheek “Did you know I’ve never been to war?” as it induces motion. “Empty Cause” feels like an extension of this, with the exception of a bouncy guitar riff that adds some much needed pop to the mix. “Waiting For The Top” is sparse on lyrics, but it’s a full frontal assault of energy that never lets up in the two-plus minutes it races past with its siren-like guitar.

“Anne” picks up where some of this leaves off and “Mirror Ball” brings some warmth with its chorus of “Oh ohs” and a surf-rock touch. As “Never Gonna (Ever)” strikes its first chords, it’s obvious the album is winding to a gentler close. While the distortion continues, the pacing slows and brings things neatly to an end while holding firm to that garage rock mentality.

 Dial Tone comes across as a tidier version of Steve Adamyk Band when compared to their previous releases, but the life never goes out of the songs. Still, it’s when the band mixes their different directions together that things really pick up, especially while throwing back to punchy lyrics and energetic rhythms that just make you want to thrash around in a way that looks as fun as it sounds.

 Top Tracks: “Last In Town”; “Waiting For The Top”

 Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Totenbaum Trager/ Projet Muet” – Totenbaum Trager/ Projet Muet

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt


Arachnidiscs have done a fantastic job with their new release of Dominic Marion’s Totenbaum Trager/ Projet Muet split. The two projects are different journeys taken by the same traveller down a road of sublime surroundings. Horns, bells, droning guitars, and all things improvised create a compelling pattern over the course of the split release’s five tracks.

The tape begins with the hypnotic, guitar-laden material of Totenbaum Trager. The aeolian harp is alive and kicking with “Western Wind,” the opening track of the album. Lounge Lizards and rock afficianadoes will find things to adore in this sparse musical construction, that pushes things wide open with its nearly sixteen minute run time. “Hung to Sarah Kane’s Shoelace” follows with an entirely guitar-based structure and sound. The atmosphere created by Marion is at its most raw in this, his most basic piece.

Listeners will find it easy to lose themselves in the minimalist, choral effects of the guitar work on the album’s first half. The Projet Muet material, a trio’s love affair with free jazz and industrial, tweeting sounds, may be a different challenge for the audience altogether. On “Prévision pour un projet muet,” the tension builds through vibrating fuzz, long horn tones, and the smattering of bells, creating a sharp edge for the rest of the cassette’s sounds to be set teetering upon. “Madspook’s Doppleganger” follows close behind, sheltering ghostly tones and provocative vibrations of guitar noise. It’s tempting to say that all the Projet Muet material could be one long song of woe, but there’s something more complicated to these three pieces. The final composition, “Dragging a Dead Tree Up the Hill,” demonstrates a complexity of mood and colour that sends the album off with greater dimensions. A confusion of bells opens the piece, at once both beautiful and intoxicating, to be put into conversation with animal calls as produced by the saxophone and guitar; the progression feels entirely organic, and resounds with satisfying resolution.

Dominic Marion’s variety of work on the new Arachnidics release is impressive. Not only can he provoke the ears of the listener with a guitar and an ebow, he can draw deeper emotions out through arrangements of improvisation shared between disparate instruments. It sounds like a simple admission, but, listening to the album, these minimalist pieces are revealing and tender in a way that many musical pieces will never be. Disturbing at times, drawn out with a deliberate desire to stretch the attention span of the listener, yes, but every minute of music on the split release is inspiring and refreshing.

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Top Tracks: “Western Wind” ; “Dragging a Dead Tree Up the Hill”

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