Review – “Aging Boy” – Little City

reviewed by Laura Stanley a0848927201_10

It’s hard to believe that it has been three years since Little City was reviewed on the blog. Filled with a friendly folk-pop sound, the band’s debut EP, The Going and The Gone, was easy to fall in love with. Although the music style has largely remained similar as this debut offering, what is most apparent in Little City’s newest EP is the band’s lyrical maturation. With varying poignant  themes covered within, Aging Boy is an example of how a band can age gracefully.

Where Frances Miller was the primary singer in The Going and The Gone, in this candid three song output, Shaun Axani is the leader of Little City. With Miller’s voice, and others’, cropping up now and again and a full instrumental soundscape throughout, Little City clearly has some talented and versatile band members.   

Aging Boy is bookended with two quick-tempo, moveable track that summarize the vibrancy of the band. Despite its contrasting downtrodden lyrics, “I Was A Runner” matches this fast beat to a tee.

In an energetic final number, the boyhood tale of “Do You Believe” closes the EP off with a bang. Moving between Axani testing out a rougher timbre, a great verse sung by Miller with the standout line, “It’s an Abercrombian life at 16. He’s all alone except for the void on the other end of the phone,” and some fun group vocals towards the end, “Do You Believe” is a powerful collective. 

Clutched between these songs is the strongest emotional showing from the band so far. “Hospital Visits” starts off in a hushed guitar + piano + vocals combination before the rest of the band jumps in. Its lulling verses and chorus match the emotional pitches of the song while the horn inclusion at the end and the return of the hushed combination, let’s “Hospital Visits” drifts off into a fitting and reflexive unknown.

Little City’s Aging Boy shows a new side of this big band.

Top Track: “Hospital Visit”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Reply 1994″ – Korean Drama

Korean Drama - Reply 1994 - coverreviewed by Michael Thomas

The idea of Toronto as a punk hub becomes more viable as the scene expands. The city has already produced top-notch acts like METZ and Pup, but there’s also a growing number of punk bands that also present singalong opportunities, like Pkew Pkew Pkew (gunshots). These types of bands have pretty much every member singing, with enough hooks in the chorus to inspire the crowd to sing/scream along with them (in addition to the debauchery found at any punk show).

Korean Drama seem to be aiming to be this kind of band, and Reply 1994 is a good indication that they can pull it off. In true punk fashion, this four-song EP doesn’t even scratch the 10-minute mark, but the band manages to pack plenty into its short running time. Chances are a live set of theirs can pack plenty of sweat into, say, 15 minutes.

The band first came to our attention with the song “Jimmy,” which is apparently about a world where Drake gets pissed off over being called by his character name from Degrassi. That song is on the EP, in all its one-minute glory.

Before that, however, is the opener “There She Goes,” which is easily the catchiest song on the record. As with “Jimmy,” the track is simple—a few strums on the bass open the song before the main, drum-thumping melody comes in along with the simple refrain: “There she goes again.”

“Shotgun Legs” goes heavy on the fuzz, and accordingly the vocals sound like they’re being sucked into a vacuum on the choruses as the members sing “You got legs like shotguns” before a catchy chorus that sounds like “When the dance is on the safety’s off.”

The band thankfully doesn’t let the energy fade with closer “Don’t Talk to Me.” an aggressive attack of plunking bass and driving guitar. The vocals here are deliciously screamy as the band sings the song’s title repeatedly as a refrain.

The band’s hasn’t revealed a lot about themselves yet, but if they they keep up the catchiness they’ll be sure to have an audience in no time.

Reply 1994 will be released August 26, 2014.

Top Track: “There She Goes”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Grey Matter” – Chersea

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis a3226819294_2

Canadian Music Week offered up plenty of gems this year, but one of the most enjoyable finds for me came when I hit up Toronto’s The Rivoli to catch the previously reviewed The Lion The Bear The Fox and was subsequently introduced to Vancouver’s Chersea.

Chersea, who’s real name is Chelsea Laing, is a one-woman band thanks to her loop station and while she’s still routinely described as a newcomer to the music scene, she’s a classically trained artist who’s already taken home third and first at the Boss Loop Station Championship over the past two years. Her debut EP came out in April, right before she started a summer of festival bookings, and it offers up just a taste of her infectious live performance.

The nine months she spent working on Grey Matter also marked a time of growth. The version of “Chemical Polarity” that appears on the EP comes out much fuller than her winning submission from only a year ago. The song, like the rest of the EP, is full of extensive, rich layers—and the intensity of that has pushed Laing’s vocals to the forefront.

The album’s “Prelude,” a quick, Imogen Heap-esque minute sets up Laing’s flair for the electronic, segueing neatly into “I Could Lose It All.” Still, it’s Laing’s unaltered voice that becomes the most compelling element of the song. There’s a playful depth at work that sets Laing apart from her other female contemporaries, whose softer voices tend to blend more. The final minute, as she layers her voice over itself, is one of the fullest on the album.

“Grey Matter” comes closest to capturing the energy that comes with watching Laing perform live—though more stripped down than the first two tracks, there’s a bubbling drum that adds a sense of optimism to Laign’s repeated “I called home/you didn’t answer/The light shines bright/It doesn’t matter.” While that carries through “Chemical Polarity,” there’s another shift for “You Caught My Eye.” Echoing lyrics and added effects soften the poppy beat even as the song builds to a crescendo. Then again, ender “Requiem” packs nothing but punch—the kind of pulsating track that tends to indicate the night is just getting started.

While Grey Matter can’t capture exactly what it’s like to hear and watch Laing live, the EP comes close to showing off exactly what she’s capable of. The poppy beats and vocal sincerity are what will stand out—an excellent sample of both her debut and performance.

Top Tracks: “Grey Matter”; “Requiem”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Dead Soft” – Dead Soft

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

Dead Soft

Dead Soft have been a source of pure entertainment for what feels like half a decade now. That’s a long time in Canadian indie music. The Vancouver three piece are heavy, introspective, airy, and always guitar-laden. And they have just put out a new self-titled record that promises to show it all off.

Dead Soft the album sounds like a timely step forward for the group. While the two EPs recorded last year provided powerful documentation of the band’s live approach, the nine newly produced tracks on this year’s release elicit a deeper sort of atmosphere. The stacking of vocal parts and the placement of the guitar effects abstract the sound in interesting ways. It feels like a mature sound for a mature record: the song structures are thoughtfully complicated, belying expecatation, causing delight.

The album possesses a sombre tone. Songs like “Death Is At My Door” and “Emergency” get about as heavy as the band has ever been, with guitar crunch of superior proportions to accompany the darker lyrics. The opener “Phase” is a crowd pleaser that was originally featured on the band’s first cassette release, and the track helps establish the journey taken on the record: the movement is away from the familiar, into darker territory. By the close of the album, “Come Back,” as ghostly backing vocals trail through the choruses, and the Kim Dealesque bass line keeps the pulse going, things feel richer, deeper, more coloured.

The track that stands apart from the rest for me is “Everything.” It sways in every direction with gusto: Graeme McDonald’s drums have the sweetness of girl group predictability, except played with the power of a jackhammer; Keeley Rochon’s bass work sets the course of switching dynamics, like a pioneer paddler in the water; and of course Nathaniel Epp’s jangling guitar pyramid of solid rhythm and lead is wonderful to behold. The song is the most laid back pop track on the album, and maybe I’m just showing my true enthusiasms when I say that I connect with this one the most, but I also believe that “Everything” is exempletive of the wonderful choices made all over the record. The song starts without any kind of extended intro, getting right to the meat of things — a novel approach to structure. The melodic guitar work also plays with a distinct sound, one of the many sonic treats found all over the record. The middle eight’s stacked vocals are perfectly balanced. There’s a lot to “Everything.”

Dead Soft have made a solid late summer release, filled with all sorts of goodies for the independent music man or woman of Canada. What I’m really excited to see is if these songs can get to the places they should be heard: in pizza delivery boy car stereos, on the backs of mini-cabs, playing out of boomboxes of all shapes and sizes. The album feels like a classic, and it deserves to be treated as such. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself. But you will, oh, you will.

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Top Tracks: “Everything” , “Death Is At My Door”

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Review – “Unrest” – Make Haste

makereviewed by Elena Gritzan

The first striking thing about Make Haste’s new EP is the portrait on the cover. It’s too bad for Joseph Bloore that re-taking unflattering photos was more challenging in 1850! The look of angry disgust on his face works comically well with the title – Unrest – which also reflects the restless heart of this set of six songs.

Musically, though, this is classic synth pop with a heavy side. Distorted and filtered vocals, magical beats, textures everywhere. Crackling noises, ornamental bleeps, grand choruses.

A high point is “Get Back Home”, the story of a break up told with two different and conflicting versions of the story. She thinks he was resentful, making up stories. He thinks she is living in a fantasy and was unfaithful. It all adds up to a dramatic back-and-forth as both parties realize they need to focus on getting back to a comfortable state, becoming themselves again apart.

There’s some great vocal collaboration all throughout the EP, outsourcing vocals from singers like Zoe Sky Jordan and Lesley Davies, though the constant filtered presence of Make Haste/TK Dallman is powerful and emotional enough to pull off the unhappy subject matter of the lyrics. And unhappy it is: realizing you should have left a relationship a long time ago, being caught in a web of your own lies, and being resentful of someone’s advantage are all situations explored.

It’s exciting to see a significant release from the Toronto-based artist – do you remember when he played our Crosswires show last summer? – and at its core, Unrest achieves the same thing that the live show does: an impressive amount of dancing.

Top Tracks: “Get Back Home”, “Stakes”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “High Noon” – Arkells

high noonreviewed by Michael Thomas

Despite living about an hour away from Hamilton for my entire life, it wasn’t until last year that I finally visited the city. Until then, all I thought about when I thought of Hamilton was factories, steel, smog, B.A. Johnston—and Arkells. Of course, the city is quite nice once you visit it, but it’s no coincidence that Arkells are one of the first bands you’ll think of when you think of the Hammer.

Arkells’ workman-like approach to rock quickly made them a Canadian gem. If you haven’t heard the phrase “I’m John Lennon in ’67” you probably haven’t lived in Canada for the last five or six years.

When bands “make it big” like Arkells did, it’s easy to come under the assumption that a band can stop trying new things and stagnate. With Arkells, the complete opposite has happened. On High Noon, the band is sounding more spirited than ever. Plenty of hooks to sing along with and sly commentaries on matters past and present.

Sounding like the beginning of an 80s soundtrack, “Fake Money” opens with piano, and Max Kerman’s gruff and distinctive vocals somehow then make it sound like something from the east coast. But as the guitars come in, the song transforms into a powerful opening statement. At one point, Kerman sings “You’re praying to gods who are meaningless to me.”

The band pays tribute to its hometown (and maybe past eras?) with “Cynical Bastards,” that namedrops Jackson Square and says “If the 80s were tough then the 90s were mean.”

For those looking for crowd-moving numbers, look no further than “11:11″ or “Dirty Blonde.” The former’s chorus of “You made a wish at 11:11, I held your hips at 12:34″ is sure to get caught in your head and the latter’s tempo is just about double the rest of the album, allowing for maximum grooving.

Arkells are at their most fun when they’re slyly joking around on songs that sound earnest and serious. “Leather Jacket” may have one of the cheesiest choruses ever, but the song takes on a whole meaning with the last line Kerman sings, almost as an aside. “Hey Kids!” is so much fun because it manages to make its old-timey, classic-rock vibe a poignant societal commentary with the chorus: “Hey kids! You’re so precious/You’re just a boy like the rest of us.”

Of course the band isn’t above seriousness either. Single “Never Thought That Would Happen” is a look back at lost youth, and may even be a meta-commentary on how the band has grown up over the years.

Though it’s maybe not the soundtrack to an old-west shootout, High Noon is perhaps the strongest entry in Arkells’ discography thus far.

Top Tracks: “Fake Money”; “Hey Kids!”; “Systematic”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Flagellation Honey” – Expwy

flagellation honeyreviewed by Michael Thomas

Well, shit. This is it. This is the last Expwy album ever. Whether Matt LeGroulx is going to focus on Galaxius Mons or do something is unknown, but either way, as Expwy he’s done a hell of a lot. He’s mixed lo-fi pop with bossa nova. He’s released a conceptual double EP about an expressway. He’s tackled pop with earnest. And that’s just the stuff this blog has reviewed.

In a way, you should know by now exactly what to expect from Flagellation Honey. The enigmatic song titles are back (just try and figure out what “Mountains bleed the proud eunuch” is going to be about) and once again, it’s a new sound for a new album. As if LeGroulx is as sad as I am for this last Expwy album, the joy of Deep Joy becomes wistful, and the clean pop turns into sludgy, almost gloomy pop.

Just from the opening chords of “Take the pills and kill the exchequer (cheer up Angie),” the chord progression evokes a feeling of looking back on something. As usual, LeGroulx and Ian Jarvis (with Christian Richer as recording engineer) weave a twisted path with words. Lyrics like “When you asked me for a glass filled with nightmares, swarming asps/I didn’t know you twinned the connections,” come around, you can’t help but remember the strangeness. And nothing is more wistful than “In poisons lay a latent saccharinity,” which has a repeating few lines ending with “Taking me back, take me back to youth.”

The songs take it relatively easy compared to songs like “Throbbing with unnatural light” and “Hold on (Don’t stop),” both featuring punishingly heavy guitar but with that Expwy lyrical touch (the latter has phrases like “Drink the water, rightful smoke.”

The points in the music where LeGroulx and Jarvis partially emerge from the sludge is when the music becomes unexpected. “The sun stood up to scorch the massive capstan cradle berth” is the kind of earnest that Deep Joy is, only the sludge comes in so late in the song that it’s like it was there since the beginning. “You drank the lemonade in tears” reverberates with a punk energy that would almost make this one a road trip song.

Flagellation Honey is a fitting way to say goodbye to a hugely prolific act. Do yourself a favour—when you’re done listening to this album, go explore the back catalogue. You never know what you’ll find.

Top Tracks: “The sun stood up to scorch the massive capstan cradle berth”; “You drank the lemonade in tears”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Lessons in Leisure Vol. 2″ – Blackpaw Society

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis cover

Enigmatic and reclusive bands start to become a staple of indie Canadian music if you spend enough time with it, tying in to our national inclination to avoid attracting to much attention to ourselves if we don’t have to. And while it can be frustrating if you ever want to know more about a band, it can also lead to some pretty creative side-stepping.

Blackpaw Society is one of Toronto’s mysteries—a “one-dog band” with “full-band albums.” Playing out that gimmick some more is the Mad Men-esque album cover for Lessons in Leisure Vol. 2 of a high-end business dog suffering the obvious pangs of ennui. Laughed off by the minds behind the project, there’s also a uniformity to Blackpaw’s masquerade—last year’s release, Rolling Around in Dead Things To Hide The Scent featured a Vetruvian-like werewolf on its cover.

That might also be the reason for the obvious growl in the title of opening track “rrrewind,” capturing the sounds of a tape deck being flipped before diving into its poppy, synth-rock fusion. The pulsing beat falls underneath some whispy, lethargic vocals while picking up the pace with each new verse. The final 45 seconds of the song are some of the best on the album as they launch into an energetic finale of plaintive shouts over far too soon.

But Lessons in Leisure Vol. 2 is the admitted creation of some turbulent times and this isn’t a standard poppy indie release by any means. With only a few exceptions, the album is an eerie, haunting and at times downright melancholic mix. Maybe it’s for those reasons that pluckier songs or segments stand out as a sign of what lies on the other side of Blackpaw’s latest inspiration.

Still, echoing “modern medicine” taps into the softer side of grunge, monotone pop before easing back into the albums ethereal mix with “amputations.” There’s more rock to “friendbeast” as it calls out “the fear deep inside/when you know you’re going to die” with strong vocals that stand in contrast to everything before. And again, a final coda that plays the opposite end of the spectrum from the rest of the song solidifies it with a simple drum dusting.

For all its subdued hues, Lessons in Leisure Vol. 2 is the perfect kind of dark and dreamy indie rock. Blackpaw Society always keep one foot rooted in the world, tapping into emotions and ideas that resonate while the album is peppered with grandiose moments that pull you back in if the dreams carry you too far away.

Top Tracks: “rrrewind”; “friendbeast”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Boiled Egg” – The Unbelievable Bargains

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

The Unbelievable Bargains

Jason Pierce, the leader of Spiritualized as well as psych-oddity buddies all over the world, stated that his favourite psych rock artist was Buddy Holly. Now, Pierce was trying to make a point that the genre is worth expanding, rather than sticking in a rigid box of reverse cymbals and echo-drowned guitar solos, but someone in Winnipeg must have been listening. The Unbelievable Bargains like to think of themselves as Buddy Holly on acid. Don’t worry, the judgment came from an inebriated crowd member at a show — these fellas are legit.

There is certainly a Holly-esque, cheery, big grin wedged deep within the music of the Bargains, especially on their new release, Boiled Egg. They write about absolute positivity more often than not. “Octopus of love / Won’t you give me a hug?” is but a touch of the simple, sing-song content all over the album. The tracks are tight, sticking to the two minute mark for the most part. Production that balances the three piece fairly evenly in the mix is reminiscent of 90s guitar albums, and gave me a warm gooey feeling for the most part.

For all its minimalism, Boiled Egg is an idiosyncratic record. “Breakfast Special,” a tune that rocks hard about hangover breakfast, starts with the guitars chiming with the alarm clock and progresses to pontificating on runny yolks. There’s also some smart song curation going on here: the doo wop ridiculousness of “Pickin Up Stray Cats” is followed directly by the “Dog Show.” Then comes “So Many Bunnies.” Yep, this is the musical equivalent of those “Ten Videos to Brighten Your Day” lists now copulating all over the net.

Boiled Egg feels like a journey back to childhood. One part Mr. Rodgers, one part Ramones, the music of the Unbelievable Bargains takes innocent fun on as a full-time job. I would listen to this album with my first child or my last friend — especially the four minute epic, “The Story of Squirtle.” That song is deep man, deep like water: “Hydrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen, and a shell.” Buddy Holly couldn’t have said it better.

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Top Tracks: “Breakfast Special” , “Pickin’ Up Stray Cats”

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Review – “Being” – Mozart’s Sister

homepage_large.a6eaa6c2reviewed by Elena Gritzan

It’s almost hard to believe that Mozart’s Sister’s debut album was only released this week. She’s been intensely on my radar since the appearance of her first three-song EP a few years ago. While a previously released song that shares her project’s name explored the idea of always feeling second fiddle, her sound has always been powerful. Her voice is expansive and powerful, her songs full of witty lyrics and sharp synth hooks. If there was ever any doubt that Mozart’s Sister comes second place to no one, it’s entirely disappeared with the release of Being.

A couple of previously released songs have emerged re-recorded – “Don’t Leave it To Me” and “Chained Together” – but all of the newer songs show how her song-writing ability has gotten even better over time. There’s lyrics about having nothing to rely on but your own drive and ambition, the feeling that you’re meant to end your days alone, and that it’s entirely okay to cry some salty tears once in a while.

The stand-out, though, is certainly “Bow a Kiss”, written about men that make her feel uncomfortable walking down the street while taking into account their perspective. The combination of the visceral, almost sexual, bass line and the emotional guitar melody is so good that the five minutes and forty seconds of the song pass by in what feels like two.

The small details that fill the space between layers of synth hooks keep it feeling like a discovery each time you take a whirl through the songs. The album begins with a clock ticking. The third song has a possible “Personal Jesus” reference. “My House is Wild” featured a small sound that could pass as a robot laughing.

When it comes down to it, though, her forceful alto – and the nuanced way she nails her vocal delivery – is the strongest and most memorable part of the album. There’s absolutely no hesitation as she belts her way through standard pop choruses and quirkier inflected verses.

The chorus of the first song states that “you can’t have a good thing without a bad thing.” While this is generally true about life and emotions in general, I’d venture to say that the album itself disproves this as a thesis. Being is definitely a good thing, without a bad song in sight.

Top Tracks: “Bow a Kiss”, “My House is Wild”, “Enjoy”

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

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