Review – ” Beast to Bone” – The Sands

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

The Sands, Beast to Bone

The Sands play an unexpected blend of folk tones and jazz forms, with some rock and roll grit thrown in like an oil slick on the beach. The Vancouver songwriters Julie McGeer and Peggy Lee have assembled a wonderful cast of characters on their newest release, produced by Jesse Zubot of Tanya Tagaq fame, to illustrate scenes that are both vast and incredibly intimate, the arrangements leading the way. The recordings are earnest, with little fat to get choked up on. It’s a mature album, Beast to Bone, and it demands to be listened to with childish glee and an appreciation of the novel.

The album makes for great pop with little to no cliche; there is such a rich collection of song material at The Sands’ disposal, and none of it is wasted: every note, every drum roll has a necessary, fulfilling effect on the record. That’s not something you hear every day, in our day and age of compression frippery. There is a general structure to be found on the album: part one, which consists of a poem-prompt, a clear image, and part two, which allows  the image to take on wings of horns, piano, and guitar, and fly away in odd directions, folkways of signification. But to spell things out so simply is to boil sea water down to liquid and powder, and does not allow the little miracles of Beast to Bone to breathe freely.

The album leads off with three heavyweight tracks, but “Fall” takes on the most weight. Slow-moving three part vocals tell a tale of trust and partnership through confusion. The regal timbre of the strings and keys throughout the song produce sophistication within a tale of vulnerability.

“Against the Drift” is a personal favourite. The title lends itself to visions of Neil Young, and the lead vocal on the track leads itself even more to the wavering, individualistic sounds of the old man and his whispering madness. The closing “ooh ooh” vocals make this track a sumptuous pop two parter, made for easy repeat play.

Give The Sands credit, their cover of “Jealous Guy” by Mr. Lennon is a different take on simplicity, yet it leads back to the message of the track with powerful recognition.

Beast to Bone is a slice of life record, that refuses to cast off the brilliance of moments as they really happen. Captured thoughts and sounds dot the tracks, making them something worth listening to attentively.

Top Tracks: “Against the Drift” , “Magnolia”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “No One Is Lost” – Stars

reviewed by Anna Alger

Montreal band Stars are at it again, continuing their 13+ year run with new LP, No One Is Lost, another step in the growth and change this group constantly undergoes while staying consistently true to the pop form. This is a hardworking, persistent group of people – and their latest album reaffirms that. Take note of the heavy bias within this review – I’ve been a fan for the better part of the last seven years.

The album was recorded above a gay disco in Montreal’s Mile End, and this is evident from the first track, “From The Night.” One of the strongest songs on the album, a beautifully atmospheric intro draws listeners into co-lead singer Torquil Campbell’s message for the ones who went out, as well as those who stayed in. A minimalist beat pulses throughout the verses, until the chorus makes the song burst into joyous dance pop accompanied by Amy Millan’s vocals.

The energy stays high as Millan leads following song, “This Is The Last Time,” but it is the third track, “You Keep Coming Up,” which shines by focusing on the natural vocal pairing of Campbell and Millan. This synth heavy slow jam evokes the sound of British duo, Electronic.

“Turn It Up” is a shimmering back-to-school number, complete with the band’s young children providing a choir of backup vocals. The following track led by Millan, “No Better Place,” is one of the most startlingly graceful songs on the album. It features Chris Seligman’s synths and the guitar tones of Chris McCarron creating a wash of contemplative atmosphere. This album really showcases the versatility Millan has in applying her vocals to compelling downtempo songs as well as upbeat, unabashed pop, which still has an edge to it.

“What Is To Be Done?” moves the record along with a haunting, looped piano melody that becomes overwhelmed by strings reminiscent of the band’s 2004 album, Set Yourself on Fire. Within the verses it occasionally feels as if the song is building in an overly lengthy manner, but the way in which the song climbs is intriguing enough to maintain the listener’s attention.

One of the highlights of the record is “Trap Door,” which can be likened to A Song Is A Weapon from previous record, The North. Campbell leads the verses, voice dripping with sarcasm and his often-used theatrical air. The rhythm section of Evan Cranley and Pat McGee really carry this song forward, and it delivers. “Are You OK?” is one of the most robust songs on the album, the music in the verses heavily inspired by New Order.

“The Stranger” and “Look Away” showcase the band’s talent at slower songs that focus on storytelling, while “No One Is Lost” wraps up the album with Stars’ classic clash of upbeat music with lyrics unafraid to explore the darkness, even that which exists in joy.

Through No One Is Lost, Stars prove themselves once again as a band with an intuitive knowledge of how to craft the pop songs that both break your heart and lift you up from the ruins (or those that help you through any stage of that journey). Intricate lyrical detail mixed with powerful music has led to the group’s success, and this combination is only getting better with experience. Pop is a vast realm and Stars are exploring its corners through their collective versatility.

No One Is Lost is currently streaming via NPR and will be released on October 14th. The album can be pre-ordered via the band’s website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Top Tracks: “You Keep Coming Up,” “From The Night,” “Are You OK?”

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

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Review – “Dayliner” – Dayliner

reviewed by Elysse Cloma

dayliner album cover

Dayliner is a four-piece indie band hailing from Nova Scotia, who “write pop songs for psychopaths”. Psychopath or not, if you dig bands like Guster or Pedro the Lion, you might enjoy listening to Dayliner. Their 12-track S/T album is 56 minutes of guitar heavy, unabashed rock.

On S/T, Dayliner shows off their ability to play a wide range of songs; from slow, comforting ballads, to pop punk, to upbeat kiss-offs, to past relationships. S/T is a straightforward production with touches of auxiliary sound, like splashes of glockenspiel on “messenger,” and understated guitar loops during the instrumental section of “whisper”.

For the most part, S/T is a variety of uncomplicated pop songs. The drumbeats, while predictable at times, seamlessly provide the sensibilities and structure of each song. “once in awhile” and “so fast” sound like the better side of Bon Iver, with catchy melodies and immaculate high-pitched falsetto vocals.

The chorus break on “say goodbye” is arresting. It’s easily my favourite, and arguably the catchiest, song on the album. It’s commanding and memorable: the chord changes are tense, unpredictable, and well-executed. The soundscape is charged with aggressive guitar chords. “argue” takes the album on a brief and unmistakably pop-punk digression, commendable for its muted guitar and album-appropriate sing-along outro.

S/T seems to take on multiple personalities, which is ever more telling of Dayliner’s ability to convincingly communicate different kinds of musical styles with a hint personal flare. Definitely worth a listen if you’re into variety, Pedro The Lion, or if you’re a psychopath, apparently.

Top Tracks: “whisper”, “say goodbye”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Northern Register” – Community Theatre

reviewed by Laura Stanley community1

In October 2013, two of the nation’s finest independent record labels and their artists teamed up to form a supergroup of sorts that reflects the strength that lies in our vast independent music communities. Whitehorse based label, and fellow winged creatures, Headless Owl Records and Welland based label You’ve Changed Records brought together an array of their artists for a creative pilgrimage to the Yukon. What resulted from this recording session is proof that getting back to the basics, jamming with friends, is always beneficial and is ultimately a core value when making a record.

Featuring Mathias Kom (The Burning Hell), Kyle Cashen (Old Time Machine), Chris Adeney (Wax Mannequin), Michael Feuerstack, Colleen Collins & David Trenaman (Construction & Destruction), Steve Lambke (Baby Eagle), Ian Kehoe (Marine Dreams), Jim Kilpatrick (Shotgun Jimmie), and Richard Laviolette, Community Theatre is all about coming together and fostering the creative expressions that make you tick. According to the trailer for their album Northern Register, the members of the Community Theatre all brought a new song to work on during the intensive recording session in Whitehorse. Despite this singular base, each song is woven with the many talents of Community Theatre for a fruitful artistic experiment.

Where the album really shines is when this community atmosphere is the most obvious. In a clear nod to their Northern surroundings, the choir-like sounds of “Onward and Upward” really give you the sense of how fun a project this really is. In a hearty ode to the majestical Aurora Borealis, the line “Aurora Borealis, the nighttime is your palace” has to be my favourite, the gang of musicians show off their talented vocal chops for a harmonized treat. 

For another downright fun outing, Mathias Kom takes the lead in the groovy sounding, “I Think My World Just Got a Little Bit Bigger.” This quick tempo, quirky love song will introduce you to the lyrical style that makes The Burning Hell so great while your not-so- great flirting strategies will sound better when you hear the line: “you’re the kind of person who secretly plays the bass and I’m the kind of person who needs a secret bass player to join my secret band that I just started right now.

With its languid beat and backing instrumentals that sounds like a bitter winter wind, “Winter Studies No 4” is appropriately chill inducing. Brought to you in part by the duo Construction & Destruction, this song does well to capture those feelings when you are not quite sure if winter is ever going to end.

In salute to Michael Feuerstack’s former monicker, Richard Laviolette’s “Snailhouse” is another big hit from Northern Register. In a crunchy and reckless number, the fuzz is laid on thick but despite its rough exterior Laviolette and the rest of the Community Theatre are able to make this one of the catchiest songs of the record.

Community Theatre’s Northern Register is a collective project you need to be a part of.

Top Tracks: “Onward and Upward,” “Snailhouse”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Legato Vipers” – Legato Vipers

LV-CD-Pocketreviewed by Michael Thomas

Whoever’s idea it was to say “Hey, the world needs an instrumental surf-rock band” deserves some credit for bringing Legato Vipers into existence. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this band so appealing—but it’s most likely the commitment to no frills and no bullshit, just a bunch of less-than-three-minute-long blasts of rock and roll.

A year-and-a-half or so from Legato Vipers’ Quick Slug, the band’s self-titled debut is—to continue the alcohol metaphor—drinking a bunch of shots in rapid succession, with the added bonus of not getting sick to your stomach afterward.

Eagle-eyed listeners will note that eight of the band’s 12 (well, 13) tracks made their debut on Quick Slug but fear not, Legato Vipers is a new beast, recorded live off the floor. So the LP’s version of “Angel Dust” won’t sound like Quick Slug‘s “Angel Dust.”

Working mostly within the “surf-rock” genre, it won’t be easy to identify each song by its name—the chances of you eventually going “Aha! I thought this sounded like ‘Penetang Hips'” are slim to none—but that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of variety.

For some straight-up surf rock to soundtrack your next spy movie, tackle “Spy vs. Spy” (obviously) and “Gangly Dancer.” To take a bit of a breather, ease into “Brian’s Beard” and “Sweet 16,” which happen to fall back-to-back.

For something a bit more ferocious, there’s “Mama Fury” and “Don’t Fear the Cab Driver Mister Reaper.” And for something all-out blistering, there’s “Penetang Hips” (okay, perhaps you might eventually know “Penetang Hips” on hearing it).

Anyway, Legato Vipers embodies everything the band is about—strutting around in leather jackets and playing some sweet guitar solos. Where there was previously a flask is now a full-sized bottle of Southern Comfort.

Top Tracks: “Spy vs. Spy”; “Gangly Dancer”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Power Buddies” – Power Buddies

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

Power Buddies

“What’s your power buddy?” That very might well be the new small talk in Edmonton bars; a new astrology for the rock and roll heart. Answers will flow like Alberta premium liquor: a skateboarding dirtbag, a skitterish toothfairy, a tattooed waitress, a heavy metal jesus. The totems will be numerous and will be proclaimed the guardians of every rollicking musical show on the planet Earth.

The Power Buddies are in reality a three piece from the aforementioned dreamy town in Northern Alberta. They were smart enough to use their powerful name as much as possible, and so the new release for 2014 shares the moniker. Recorded at the Taco Tray — what I can only assume is the spiciest recording space in Edmonton — the eight tracks on the release offer up a healthy serving of rootsy rock and lofi shine. You’ll like the Buddies if you’re into Fidlar, Murder City Devils, Slam Dunk, or the Beatles. Or tacos.

There’s a lot of twang in the mix. This is definitely the most tex mex of the Edmonton stuff I’ve heard so far. Some very Al Kooper ghostly organ work going on, and only minimal drum parts. The vocals have been layered heavily, and slapped around, so that they come through with an almost New Wave slither when they do hit the ears. All three Buddies pull vocal work, which alters things up nicely as the album cruises along. The guitar parts are mixed and interesting: the record features everything from ballsy blues chords to wiry surf tremolo parts, spanning a nice selection of styles in between.

The songs themselves are delightfully introspective. Psychotic insomnia, empty promises for the future, and the loss of self-control are all featured in technicolour. Not the cheap beer and hungover mornings that many of us are used to witnessing in conjunction with this sound — though those make for wonderful songs as well. It seems the Buddies want more out of their lyrical material. Well done there, pushing the envelope open and stuffing it full of scream therapy recordings.

A couple of favourite pets: “In My Mind” has a slaying beat and a hook-driven verse part that will tame the wildest heart; and “I Saw a Light” is a glorious, creepy love song. There is no reason this record isn’t already a part of computer’s soul, and in turn your own. Give it a shot. Get into Power Buddies.

Top Tracks: “I Can’t Sleep” , “In My Mind” , “Every Night”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

 

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Review – “Museum With No Walls” – Blood and Glass

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis unnamed-2

Listening to Blood and Glass’s debut album, I’m still stunned to think this is their first. Partners Lisa and Morgan Moore, along with bandmates Robbie Kuster, Melanie Belair and Francois Lafontaine sound like they’ve been at this for awhile—and the collaborations they’ve pulled off on their first LP give that impression as well, grabbing help from Patrick Watson, Brad Barr, Simon and Erica Angell and Jocelyn Veilleux.

Museum With No Walls captures Lisa Moore’s breathy, ethereal vocals and pairs them up with an exhilarating and haunting mix for what they’ve dubbed Baroque pop. Even as the music feels dreamy and gentle, it gives off a surprising punch, especially on tracks like “Photograph,” that still push your body to sway and move with the tapping rhythm and eclectic blending of sounds.

The second half of the album strips away some of that dreaming, coming to life with a series of dark, pulsating tracks that feel more energetic than the M83-style opener. Closer “Birdy” turns the familiar pattern of a lullaby into an ominous chant while “Bad Dreams” revisits their talking opener with urgency. Everything starts to feel stronger and more present as the album progresses, abandoning the lingering, whispish quality of the earlier tracks for a sense of presence and complexity.

But while things get increasingly experimental as the album progresses, the early tracks capitalize on catchy hooks sung softly by Moore. “Paper Heart” breathes heavily into the chorus with barely-restrained emotion, and the tugging whine of the violin on the intro to “Floating Nora” sets the tone for the mesmerizing melody. Even “Inferno” captivates with subtle brushes and choir-esque humming, accenting a delicate turn to the vocals.

From electronic whirring to the shifting tones of Moore’s emotive singing there’s a multifaceted journey to Museum With No Walls. At times the fourteen tracks engage in a push and pull between truly delving into experimentation with their semi-electronic sound and taking advantage of the natural, inescapable ambience they can create when they dial things back. The one constant is the sense, long after the final note has blown away, that there was something eerie and beautiful created here.

Museum with No Walls will be released on October 21.

Top Tracks: “Paper Heart”; “Floating Nora”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Waterwings” – Hush Pup

waterwingsreviewed by Michael Thomas

While the “dream pop” label is becoming well-worn in this day and age of DIY, there truly is no band more deserving of the title than Victoria/Toronto’s Hush Pup. To hear Ida Maidstone (Triple Gangers) sing is probably what it would sound like if an angel opened its mouth.

Noted, it’s high praise, but the accompanying instrumentals help to accent her breathy and emotive vocals. While Darlene, the band’s debut EP, gave only a tantalizing glimpse into the band with three songs, Waterwings doubles the dosage with six—yes—dreamy songs.

And it’s really hard to get more perfect than the opener “Thailand.” Crystalline synths pulse before Maidstone’s vocals come in, singing about keeping a “stash” in Thailand. The song would already be great if it was just four minutes of Maidstone and subtle synths, but halfway through it shifts gears, with an 8-bit synth beat and some light drums adding a new dimension.

The band is no one-trick pup though; “Swimming” weaves together a beautiful combination of a repeating guitar line, deep bass and distant, sometimes woozy synths to truly make this song feel like it’s taking place underwater. It also has a penchant for shapeshifting, later becoming something like a lo-fi campfire song.

“Magic Hour” may be the band’s sexiest song to date—the synthesizers are so finely-tuned they sound like strings and a gentle few notes on guitar make this an ideal song to listen to at 2 a.m. as everything begins to blur around. “In the Dark” also appropriately belongs in the nighttime, with Maidstone’s delivery and accompanying synths/guitar stretching out just a tad longer to induce that wee-hour delirium. And despite its tough-sounding title, “Fighter” also takes it easy.

Not to give the impression that the band is all about slow jams—”Wait Up” kicks things up a notch with a more guitar-focused melody and crunchier lyrics like “Gonna give to ya/In the car…”

The Bandcamp description of this EP says it was “recorded at the noise floor, on a magical island” and it shouldn’t take much to believe that Hush Pup does, in fact, originate from a mythical place that no one else has access to.

Top Tracks: “Thailand”; “Swimming”

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

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Review – “I Was A Worker And Now I’m Old” – No Museums

reviewed by Elysse Cloma

Place No Museums in the Same Band, Different Name file. EdmoNo Museums Album Artworknton’s Twin Library is now called No Museums, out with their recent debut release I Was A Worker And Now I’m Old.

The seven-song album is like Wonder Bread. It’s familiar, tasteful, easy to digest, and inconspicuously fortified. No Museums has mastered the alt-rock sound of the ‘90s – think of Pavement, or Built To Spill, and add a pinch of The Velvet Underground or The Jesus and Mary Chain. Like Pavement songs, the songs on I Was A Worker And Now I’m Old are filled with layers of distorted guitar. “Engine Parts” and “The Mountain Slowing Down” have the essential workings of ‘90s alt-rock: familiar without being predictable, comfortably mid-tempo, and simple melodies that tend to float and lull the listener into a thoughtless daze.

There is a sense of ease on I Was A Worker And Now I’m Old, and the songs feel like background music at times. They often end abruptly, seemingly lacking in structure or  purpose. A closer listen to each song reveals otherwise. There are very purposeful guitar hooks, embellishments of subtle synth, and well stated percussion fills. The careful switch to acoustic guitar on the outro of “National Dark Parks” shows that I Was A Worker and Now I’m Old is more than just a series of sonic pleasantries.

If you’re looking for an album to bob your head to in 4/4 time, check out I Was A Worker and Now I’m Old.

Top Tracks: “Engine Parts”, “The Mountain Slowing Down”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Right From Real” – Lydia Ainsworth

reviewed by Anna Algerdownload (11)

Montreal artist Lydia Ainsworth is creating enviable soundscapes through her use of vocal sampling, synthesized beats, and haunting melodic lines. I saw her and her (very talented) band open for Owen Pallett in Ottawa last weekend and it was a magical night. She reminds me a bit of Kate Bush with a touch of Bat for Lashes thrown in, but Ainsworth is truly unique and brings a sound that is all her own – taking influence from a variety of sources such as Bulgarian choral music and Art of Noise.

“Candle,” the first track on Right From Real, opens with an understated rhythm and strong strings. Ainsworth’s lyrics are full of imagery and paired with a simple melody that becomes jagged as her sampling prowess comes into focus. Her music is the synthesis of many small bits of intrigue, and this song is an example of just how seamlessly they are all able to mesh. The following song, “White Shadows,” opens with a curious sounding introduction, fleshed out by a repetitive call over splintered vocal samples. She layers her vocals to create a choral effect, which fades away as the strings begin to soar.

“Malachite” really highlights the influence of choral music on Ainsworth’s sound, with what sounds like synthesized Gregorian chanting backing throughout the verses. Rolling synth lines and a simple beat are featured as well. “Take Your Face Off” has more prominent drumming than in previous songs, which adds some more excitement to the midway point on the record. Ainsworth does solemn music well, but she can also create true jams with a danceable air. “Moonstone” pairs beautifully crafted lyrics with various vocal modulations and a driving beat. Some of the phrases seem slightly lengthy when trying to fit in with the music, but the song still retains cohesion. The final three tracks on the album continue this journey through the artist’s visceral world, a highlight being “PSI,” a steady pop song that has a welcome light air to it.

Lydia Ainsworth has made a striking collection of songs in Right From Real, defining herself as an artist whose work is well worth exploration. Combining traditional orchestral instruments such as the cello and violin with synthesizing, sampling, and lovely voice styling, Ainsworth is developing a layered sound full of wonder and imagination, which is also able to be translated live in an expert fashion. Bravo.

Right From Real is out now via Arbutus Records.

Top Tracks: “White Shadows,” “PSI,” “Malachite”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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