Review – “Moon” – Danielle Fricke

moonreviewed by Michael Thomas

We Canadians can be a gloomy bunch, be it about the weather or our various sports franchises. “Gloomy” may also be the way to describe Danielle Fricke’s music, at least at first listen—and of course there’s nothing wrong with that. Listen to the gentle, guitar-driven title track and you won’t miss its eerie, stark beauty.

But a funny thing happens as Moon goes on. By the end, it appears that Fricke is digging out from under the grey. Songs like “Maisy” and “Rabbit” build into confident, swelling songs that finally say goodbye to feeling sad.

Musically, Fricke’s music is closest to that of Toronto’s Anamai. Both projects dwell in darkness, with gorgeous songs based in folk but heading towards other genres. Fricke, however, has some electronic influence (no doubt thanks to her previous involvement in London, Ont.’s Snow Mantled Love). Opener “Tenterhooks” gives a pretty clear idea of the dreamlike experience you’re in for, with its swelling synths and gentle electric guitar. The aforementioned “Moon” brings Fricke’s vocals more into the forefront, really adding a chill to her lunar metaphors.

It also becomes clear fairly quickly that Fricke will never do the same thing twice. “Yours Till the Ocean” is a fully electronic journey, with sounds at one point mimicking the sounds of water, while “Mourning Dove” draws out each picked guitar note to join Fricke’s layered vocals in a truly angelic piece.

Along the way to the end, Fricke mines some emotional depths. Previous single “The Well” is still a standout, as the gloomy guitar makes Fricke’s urgent vocals all the more surprising. “Heirloom” may fill you with memories of the past, with its staccato music-box-sounding notes and breathy, barely-there vocals.

Meanwhile, “Dizzy” pulls off quite the trick as it goes along, with a repeated phrase and guitar line swirling around to create an actual illusion of dizziness. “Maisy” wastes no time in being loud right from the get-go; loud droning and epic guitar is a wonderful catharsis after a ghostly, haunting listen.

It makes a lot of sense that Fricke first made an impression on me with a gorgeous Christmas EP about a year ago. Moon carries that same kind of wonderful warmth.

Top Tracks: “The Well”; “Mourning Dove”; “Maisy”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “379 Evert St.” – Braden Phelan

reviewed by Eleni Armenakisa0112973075_16

Named for a street in his hometown, Braden Phelan’s second release took inspiration from the local church next door to his parents’ house in rural Ontario. 379 Evert St. is full of big songs for big places, and it’s easy to picture Phelan filling up the empty chamber of a church nave with his potent blend of rock, blues and a dash of indie.

With some training at Seneca College behind him and a slew of contributors chipping in everything from vocals to the mandolin on his eight-song EP, Phelan’s managed to set off on the right foot as he—to paraphrase himself—sets off into the wider world as all small town folks seem to do. The album careens through Canadiana in all its glorious shapes and sizes, laying it on heavy for a muddy electric guitar on “Take Me” and plying a more gentle touch with the newfound romance of “The Gamblers.”

Both work to Phelan’s advantage—going loud lets him live up to his self-proclaimed status of being “the result of a saucy night of passion between Tom Waits and The Band (Neil Young watched)” and relishing all that comes with it. But slowing things down does a better job of showcasing Phelan’s penchant for rhythms and breaks, giving his choral build far more passion and letting you savour his hesitant lyrics (“When Death gambles, he plays for keeps”).

“Better” kicks things off with a bouncy, optimistic blazer of a song, juxtaposing the methodical downward strum with the perky sounds of an old video game to make for a fine point of entry. Dropping its polar opposite, as Phelan and Liv Cazzola sing, “I’m alone when I’m with you,” manages to signal the fact that this isn’t your typical pop rock burst while tapping into some of the darkness Phelan mentions, as well as the languor of small choices.

Although despite the number of vulnerable ballads that line 379 Evert St., Phelan is perhaps truest to his opener. His album is ultimately full of possibility for all the depths he plumbs along the way and the quiet support he musters in the closing track reflects his own willingness to pack up, leave small-town life and pitch in to the broader world, which would be lucky to have him—and not just because he’s offering to bring “Ice Cream & Wine.”

Top Tracks: “The Gamblers”; “Ice Cream & Wine”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Love Dies But You Won’t” – Valois

a2573759840_10reviewed by Chris Matei

Ottawa’s Charles Hoppner has evolved Valois from what began as a minimalist songwriting project into a full-band effort featuring Shannon Murray and Dan KL, with production and co-writing from And The Kids’ Megan Miller. The resulting full-length, Love Dies But You Won’t, explores heart-on-sleeve songs delivered in a proto-Napoleon-Dynamite croon, a sort of Violent Femmes folk-punk exercise undercut with simple drum patterns of the kind you’d find built into an Omnichord or vintage Korg Mini Pops unit, toylike blips, blops and loopy electro-zazzle flourishes.

There’s a surfeit of super-quirky vintage glammed-out space capsule pop on hand here, streaked through with a black humour reminiscent of the work of world-weary and wry lyrical output of B.C.’s Prarie Cat. Off-kilter boy-girl harmonies pull the boppy verse grooves of “Ça Sera” and “Lone Wolf” in eccentric, wobbling patterns – the vocal interplay on the latter song splices the deep bassy pads of the instrumentation into satisfying patterns before breaking down into a distorted, affected pseudo-rap section and howling, treble-fuzzy outro. It’s downright weird, for lack of a better word, displaying a madcap combination of obviously exaggerated tinfoil-and-pipe-cleaner aesthetics and straight-arrow, unironic delivery.

“Impasse” mixes distorted squelches and 70s-style sci fi throwback pad washes in what is at first a melancholic drone, accelerating to a swarm of digital insects pulsing and oscillating like some giant Death Star control panel as it whines its way toward full power. You can practically picture Hoppner scrambling at the controls of a massive multi-timbral modular system with patch cords snaking out like nerve cells on every surface. “Hero Dog” morphs a heartbreakingly earnest ballad structure about a faithful companion into a sequence of velour-lined glam punk tapestries in its choruses, all trashy cymbals and high gain soloing.

“Ottawa Love Song” is a cutting, if hilariously adoring, portrait of arrested development and yearning in the artist’s hometown: “I’m from the city that fun forgot / the lost child of the indie scene / bureaucracy is the economy / we don’t have jet planes, we have balconies.” The vintage girl group handclaps, scrawny falsetto, and Moonage Daydream style guitar vamping all tread a deliciously fun pop-camp line. The title track goes for an even more emphatic strike at a Bowie-esque aesthetic, with its reverberating short-gated snare and swishing old-school organ warbles. In the later going of the album, “Elation” works brilliantly as a strung out New Wave pop anthem.

Love Dies But You Won’t may be a love-or-hate listen, depending on your tolerance for the skew of a particular ratio of moments of unbridled digital experimentation to those built on lovingly Frankensteined retro-pop structures. It’s raw and rough around the majority of its edges, but lends itself well to the scratching of a certain, hard-to-reach musical itch.

Top Tracks: “Elation,” “Ottawa Love Song,” “Lone Wolf”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Refuge” – Old Haunt

a0073357015_16reviewed by Laura Stanley 

Singing about God can be traced as far back as primitive civilizations. Fast forward a couple of thousand years and, to speak nothing of other super popular and diverse contemporary Christian music, cross-over acts like the now dismantled Pedro the Lion or Sufjan Stevens helped push the secular world into mainstream music. In our sphere, blog favourites We Are The City openly sing of their relationship with God. So needless to say the religious aspect of Refuge by Montreal band Old Haunt not what’s jarring. It’s frontman Lucas Huang’s treatment of spirituality in this collection of hymns and gospel songs that’s completely enthralling. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s in the band name, Old Haunt will haunt you. 

There’s an unsettling quality about Refuge right from the start – its cover art an ominous and simple white arrow pointing downward on a unclear and blackened background. To make things even darker, Huang, alongside multi-instrumentalist Matt Rogalsky, shroud the EP with heavy reverb – as if in an effort to replicate the echo in a large cathedral. To top it off, Huang delivers his lyrics in a sharp sing/speak manner, a devotional cadence that entrancing.

“Get Back Satan,” the pinnacle of Refuge and a cover of Rev. Roger L Worthy‘s song, is a simple yet powerful proclamation of faith. Huang’s staccato delivery in each repetition of “get back satan,” in his chilling higher-register, acts like flashes of light puncturing the darkness (evil) that surrounds the EP’s lyrics. Amongst the unfaltering rhythm of “Come Ye Sinners,” based on the hymn written by 18th century Calvinist minister Joseph Hart, this religious devotion is found again and is beautifully asserted in the final verse when Huang, with peace in his voice, sings: “I will rise and go to Jesus/he shall keep me safe from harm.”

The EP’s final track is a boisterous cover of Blind Willie Johnson‘s “City of Refuge” (originally titled “I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge”). It’s here where Old Haunt outright say what they have been implying throughout the EP – their unwavering faith, channeled by Huang, will rise up and protect them from all evil.

Top Track: “Get Back Satan”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Mirror Maze” – Merganzer

mirrormaze_frontcoverreviewed by Jack Derricourt

The first snows fell today in my neck of High Park. Joggers, babies, and dogs were all exposed to their first taste of white fever. I huddled my mess of novel draft papers indoors and prepared for the worst. Thankfully, the delightful tunes of Merganzer, and her illustrious new release Mirror Maze were ready to help me out.

The solo project by Mika Posen contains lightly compacted songs with the allure of fresh snow. Piano, vocals, and the incredible mikatron — a mellotron device involving samples of Posen’s violin — push and pull on each other to create unique textures on the album. She declares the project to be experimental pop, and the recording style certainly leads itself to the genre: there is separation between the many musical voices at play, as if each sound were being tinkered with in a separate room; in “Other Voices” a tribal drum sounds off while the mikatron proclaims itself loudly, as if the two sonic partners were duelling each other.

Thankfully, Merganzer possesses a much cheerier outlook on General Winter than I do. In “Mirror Maze” the speaker proclaims that the “nights are getting longer” and looks on to the coming solstice and its promise of safety. There is a similar mood to much of the album: something sinister always seems in the works, a “darkest day” as mentioned in “Vitava,” but the promise of new changes always appears, a promise of invention out of sorrow or confusion. The sound supports this atmosphere, with the novel sounds of the mikatron and the space provided by the production allowing pathways through the music to form in inspired ways.

Possibly my favourite moment on the album comes in “Songs Without Words.” The declarative lyric, “We sing songs without words” is sung to the most compelling melody, highlighting the keen use of vocal material on the record. Sparse, crisp pieces for voice litter the record, but it is in the arrangement around the one line that the rich quality of orchestration conducted by Merganzer is exhibited at its best.

I really enjoyed this record. While it didn’t make me want to go out and play in wet, slowly freezing world, it did give me hope for the magic of the changing season. Leaving the old world for something new, Merganzer conjures up an experimental beauty. Listen and enjoy.

Top Tracks: “Mirror Maze” ; “Songs Without Words”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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reviewed by Anna Alger

Strong, steady rhythms, emotive lyrics, and smooth melody introduce Toronto’s SIMCOE to the world via their debut self-titled EP. The young band have already been selected to play at Canadian Music Week next year and have released a live track since then, after playing many venues in Toronto.

Upbeat indie rock characterizes the EP’s opener, “Lost,” its driving rhythm capturing listeners’ attention and inviting them to stay and hear out the call of the song’s chorus: “Don’t seek shelter, no. Won’t you feel it all, feel it all?”

The next track, “Afterglow,” has an atmospheric introduction, leading into a gentle pop song with a steady beat. Clear, melodic guitar lines focus the music as the lyrics explore a relationship on the edge. Vivid natural imagery is used heighten the drama of the song.

The insistent synth of “Closer” brings the tempo of the SIMCOE EP back up, rhythm guitar laying down the base for the hooky refrain: “Won’t you come a little closer?” The harmonies that follow are akin to those of Hey Rosetta!, standing out amongst the song’s varying instrumental lines.

SIMCOE craft a promising debut with their self-titled EP. Their music has the lyrical honesty of Foals’ Yannis Philippakis, and the instrumental sensibilities of a patchwork of established Canadian indie acts. The latter may cause them to be overlooked, but the band has room to grow and expand their sound, something I look forward to hearing.

Top Track: “Afterglow”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Americana Submarine” – Laura Sauvage

a3860110573_16reviewed by Laura Stanley

In a gust of attitude and charm, Americana Submarine blows by. Laura Sauvage is Vivianne Roy’s (Les Hay Babies) anglophone solo project and though Americana Submarine is cut from the same cloth as Les Hay Babies’ releases, this EP is from that cloth’s frayed edges.  

Americana Submarine is not trying to please anyone in its scruffy, no-fucks-left-to-give attitude but of course it does. Perhaps NO fucks is a little much because Roy does dabble in self-pity (“The Avalanche”) and even a tiny bit of remorse (“You Think I’m Cruel”) but lyrically and instrumentally, the EP exudes so much confidence that it’s littered with the deep footprints Roy’s made by her struts.

The light pop touches of “The Avalanche” floods the track with a charisma that’s irresistible while the heavy guitar distortion adds the right touch of grime to “Subway Station.” The all too short (under two minutes) closer “Dirty Ways To Make Your Money” is a blistering little number and the only song that instrumentally matches Roy’s boldness before abruptly casting the EP off into the unknown

Another great track, “You Think I’m Cruel” is an acoustic affair, bordering on a classic country sound, and moment of quiet meditation on a failed relationship. Roy delivers a blow by blow report of everything that went wrong in poetic excellence – highlighted by this powerhouse of a line: “Mirages of lust killed your trust, I promise you’ll get over it one day.”

It’s unlikely though you’ll get over Americana Submarine anytime soon.

Top Tracks: 
“You Think I’m Cruel”; “Dirty Ways To Make Your Money”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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