Review – “Quiet Songs EP” – Lindsay Kupser

Kupserreviewed by Kirsty Chan

Lindsay Kupser’s Quiet Songs EP lives up to its name with five delicately crafted songs. Kupser is a Calgary native currently residing in Boston, but the singer-songwriter has plans to relocate to Vancouver in the near future. The EP’s running themes of loneliness and love-gone-wrong do not make for a light listen, but for an emotional night in it does the trick.

“All of My Bones Broke on Thursday Evening” opens the album with an eerie guitar melody that builds with Kupser’s voice as she becomes increasingly frantic. The song drifts to an unsettling calm before fading away.

The album moves on to “Couldn’t Move to Brooklyn”, which highlights one of the album’s greatest strengths: storytelling. The song starts out with a simple strummed background that allows Kupser’s honeyed vocals to stand out. Her lyrics imply a discontent and desperation by the time Kupser hits the chorus and begs, “Please don’t leave me.”

Her storytelling skills come into play again on “Tough Country” as Kupser sings a sad song of love that echoes through the generations and the bond between mothers and daughters.

The album closes on “Everything Feels So Hard Always”, another song with minimalist instrumentals. Again, Kupser’s voice shines through with haunting bluntness and clarity. The last line of the album wraps up this approach with its lingering last line: “I leave wrong men, right men leave me and it makes me sad.”

Released on March 14, Quiet Songs EP is her follow up release to last year’s debut, The Boston EP. They’re available to stream and buy on Bandcamp. Give it a listen for entrancing vocals, evocative melodies, and a sense of simple honesty.

Top Tracks: “Couldn’t Move To Brooklyn”; “Everything Feels So Hard Always”

Rating: Proud Hoot (really good)

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Review – “Top 40 Radio Memory Dream (Oh Yeah!)” – Purple Hill

reviewed by Elysse Cloma

album artwork

Purple Hill plays rock and roll “that encompasses decades”. Top 40 Radio Memory Dream (Oh Yeah!) is an album title that says it all. Purple Hill has demonstrated the ability to replicate the popular rock and roll sounds that we’ve heard on the airwaves throughout the decades. And, in true rock and roll fashion, their album Top 40 Radio Memory Dream (Oh Yeah!) was recorded live off the floor at 6 Nassau Studios in Toronto with Jeff McMurrich, who has worked with acts such as Constantines, Owen Pallett, Basia Bulat, and Fucked Up.

Even though the rock and roll genre developed out of innovation and rule breaking, Purple Hill seems to be following the formulae or “discipline” of popular rock music. “Sweat Out The Take Out” and “Six String All To My Heart” are country-influenced guitar tunes, similar to the styles of Glenn Campbell or Springsteen. “Six String All To My Heart” is highly evocative of Blue Rodeo tunes, with a splash of organ in the mix and Owen Marchildon’s emotional Jim Cuddy-esque vocal performance.

While there is something formulaic and conventional about their songs, Purple Hill manages to avoid being monotonous. “Through Your Nightmares” is an upbeat punk tune that has teeth and a wicked guitar riff. “I’ve Been Listening to Nico” is a perfect pastiche that sounds part Velvet Underground, part grunge. Incorporating a breadth of styles on Top 40 Radio Memory Dream (Oh Yeah!) might seem ambitious, but Purple Hill has successfully created an album that is a pure homage to rock and roll.

Top Tracks: “I’ve Been Listening to Nico”; Six String All To My Heart

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really good)

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Review – “Goon” – Tobias Jesso Jr.

reviewed by Laura Stanleypackshot2

Despite its playful title, Goon is an emotional powerhouse. Its subtle delivery demands your full attention and attention is what it’s getting. Quite suddenly, Vancouver’s Tobias Jesso Jr. is a familiar name – performing his hit “How Could You Babe” on the Tonight Show and “Without You” on Conan and even earning a fan in Adele. On paper, nothing about Jesso’s music is flashy and the only thing that makes him standout is his height – 6 ft 7!- and yet, he elegantly taps into the simplest of human emotions, making his music gripping and extremely relatable.

Tobias Jesso Jr. sounds like a child of a 70s or 80s singer-songwriter. Most noteworthy, the completely charming “Can We Still Be Friends” could easily be the sequel to Carole King’s 1971 classic “You’ve Got A Friend.” By putting together familiar arrangements of piano, drums, bass and the occasional addition of strings, horns, or guitars, his music is earnest and warm. It’s a delectable backdrop to the complex moments that Jesso paints.

A song that is on the minds of many, “How Could You Babe” is just the, granted, very catchy, tip of Goon’s metaphorical iceberg. Built around some simple piano chords, with each repetition of Jesso crying “how could you babe?” the despair grows more urgent and ultimately ends with Jesso unleashing a scream in the last verse. For those who like poppy, piano-based emotional ballads (think Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”), to like “How Could You Babe” is a complete no brainer. For those less inclined, (you might have thought “ugh” during the above description) hear me out: you know that wonderful feeling when you’re mid-falling in love/lust/like/whatever but you suddenly look around and the other party is nowhere in sight? With not even your naive optimism to cushion the blow, you’re left alone to painfully hit the ground. Every replay of “How Could You Babe” is like going through that all again. Gloriously painful. 

“Without You” won’t help with your sadness either as it reflects on these above emotions in a methodical manner. It’s a slow burning, a less obvious though equally powerful album hit, it comes to a peak during the bridge’s desperate question, “Oh, what have you got to lose?”

Where you’ll find the earliest emotional break is in “The Wait.” “The Wait” is an irresistible little love song. A simple plucked guitar and vocal combo, Jesso’s desire to find companionship is entirely confident, he can’t hide behind his bashful lyrics, even when he croons, “maybe you wanted more but if I change, could I ask you on a date?”

Based on Jesso’s own experience moving to California, “Hollywood” is a sombre reflection on fame and the industry standards. The song is later contrasted by the light “Leaving LA.” Jesso seems to find acceptance and a clarity here that had otherwise been absent.

Throughout Goon, we get glimpses of what is to come from Jesso. “Leaving LA” has some of those hints, the middle part of the track features some swirls and whirls and even a bongo drum, and “For You” is a bright, upbeat number that is one of the fullest songs from the record. With a dramatic vocal performance from Jesso and an ending guitar solo, “Crocodile Tears” is theatrical while the closer, “Tell the Truth” sneaks in there almost as a folky number, with the backing strings allowing Goon to glide to a finish.

Tobias Jesso Jr. is is more than a shadow living in a shadow of a past music style; he occupies space. He is part of an ongoing renewal of music’s simplicity. Goon is just the beginning of what should be a long journey for Tobias Jesso Jr.

Top Tracks: “How Could You Babe”; “Can We Still Be Friends”; “The Wait” 

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

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Review – “Little Mourning” – Milk & Bone

little mourningreviewed by Michael Thomas

With a minimal approach, Milk & Bone have somehow created one of the most piercing albums in quite some time. Little Mourning is a collection of little heartaches: pining for someone you’ll never have; a lover departing; the realization that you and someone else can never be together. The album invites listeners to come and wallow with Camille Poliquin and Laurence Lafond-Beaulne.

As noted above, there aren’t too many elements to the music—pianos, vocals and synths, basically—and there are enough synth-pop duos to fill up an Olympic stadium. But Poliquin and Lafond-Beaulne’s tight control prevents the album from ever going too far—or worse, too tame. It’s the reason “Pressure” got the attention it did before this album came out.

“Pressure” is a perfect pop song. Warm synths, clear vocals and finger snaps makes this a stunningly hard-hitting number. “You’re like good water pressure on a cold rainy summer” is the perfectly enigmatic metaphor you’ll wish you’d come up with first. It’s also less of a heartache song and more of an ode. The song’s biggest strength is its defying of convention—given the softness, one might expect it to balloon into something loud, but it resists the temptation.

On the other side of things is a song like “Coconut Water.” Things aren’t great for the narrator here, but the vaguely tropical beats help bring out the inner flippancy of the lyrics. Yeah sure, he won’t be leaving “her” any time soon, but lyrics like “Fruity lipstick on your cheek, I haven’t been home in a week, I’m cool with that/I’ve got the sun to worry about” help show that she’s got more going on. And the chorus is a nice big middle finger: “And if you ever feel like leaving her I’ll be here, drinking my coconut water.”

While synths remain the biggest part of the music of Milk & Bone, the briefest hints of folk come into play here and there. Opener “Elephant” is an ethereal and dream-like number and unabashedly romantic, but for the last thirty seconds, the synths are replaced with a crackling sound as the duo sings some prolonged “ahhhs,” as though sitting around a campfire. And the first half of “Easy to Read” is mostly on ukulele before a wave of huge bass hits for the second half. Or even just on the way Poliquin and Lafond-Beaulne harmonize on the line “You know I adore the night” on “Watch.”

Little Mourning is a stunning debut from an act that deserves to be huge. And there’s little doubt that this will help get them there.

Top Tracks: “Pressure”; “Coconut Water”

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

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Premiere: 5 videos from Valued Customer

room bed fathersToronto’s lovable weirdos Valued Customer have been a little quiet lately, but with good reason. They’ve been working on a new album, Hugecup, set for a release late this year.

But in the meantime, they’ve come out with not one, or two, but five new videos from their chaotically brilliant album Kalpa. Grayowl Point is proud to premiere all five of them at once, and be on the lookout for a mixtape of new material from the band very shortly.

All videos are by Valued Customer and Hayet Coghlan except for “Joni,” by Dylin North.

“Quando quebra” starts things off in a colourful and abstract direction, largely focusing (at first) on pulsating shape. But as the music starts to sound like it’s breaking down, there’s a sudden explosion of colour that will make you question reality.

The video for “second moon” starts with a shot of a guy with a painted face staring intently into the camera, for an almost mesmeric quality. Eventually he closes his eyes though, and the video starts to look like an indoctrination video with its rapidly-changing colours and images. Eagle-eyed viewers may catch the brief glimpse of Justus’ awesome flower guitar.

It’s like there are two videos at war on “Joni,” with bright, psychedelic colours blanketing moving figures in the background. Sometimes they’re animals, sometimes human beings, and who knows what else is back there?

The video for “beatrice” is another journey, starting out psychedelic like the previous videos but then laying out some concrete images later; a maple leaf, folding fabric and more comprise this spiritual-sounding song.

What does your heart desire? Footage of colourful objects sitting in rippling water? A starry backdrop? Swirling yellows? Giant bubbles? Well you’re in luck, because the video for “room/bed/fathers” has all of the above and more.

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One-on-One with Benjamin Hackman of the Holy Gasp

The Holy Gasp (Benjamin Hackman, centre)  Photo credit: Alex Kisilevich

The Holy Gasp (Benjamin Hackman, centre)
Photo credit: Alex Kisilevich

by Michael Thomas

In the beginning, there were congas.

The Holy Gasp is one of the wilder bands Toronto has to offer, and just last month they released their excellent debut album, The Last Generation of Love. Combining elements of Afro-Cuban music, punk and several other musical styles, the band can be hard to categorize, but band leader Benjamin Hackman prefers it that way.

“I wish instead of freaking out about genre and what it is and putting it into a category, people would resist the urge to categorize it,” he says. “I think that it really limits our ability to appreciate the music. They should just be open to the cultural exchange and mindful of the cultural appropriation.”

But the beginnings of the Holy Gasp can be traced back to a trip Hackman took several years ago. He stayed in the Gulf Islands (off the coast of BC) for nine months and “totally hippied out” writing poetry. When he arrived back in Toronto in 2011, he fell in love with a pair of congas and began putting music to them. Thinking it “a very beatnik-y” thing to do, Hackman began playing music as a one-man band.

Eventually Hackman wanted to record an album, and initially had some help from Benjamin Reinhartz of Dilly Dally before the band finally solidified to a lineup consisting of Hackman, Daveyoso, Sebastian Shinwell, Christopher Weatherstone and James McEleney.

If the lyrics of a Holy Gasp song make the listener think of something one might hear at a poetry slam, it’s no coincidence. Hackman’s poetry background goes back to childhood, and he draws inspiration from varied sources, from John Berryman to Sophocles.

“I just saw music as an opportunity to fuse the disciplines and also enliven poetry from the page and distinguish myself from the spoken world,” Hackman says. “And kind of renegotiate the aesthetic of beatnik poetry, but in a new way, through music.”

Poetry provides the backbone for Hackman’s songwriting process. “The poetic structure offers a melodic structure,” he says, and once he has something figured out for congas he sits down with Shinwell to map out the rest. In some cases, Hackman says, a melody will come into his head fully formed, but it can take a long time before he finds words for them.

There’s certainly a poetic feel to some of the lyrics of The Last Generation of Love, which Hackman calls a protest album—but it’s not aimed at any one person.

“It was kind of a generally anti-establishment, anti-civilizational, overarching, anarchist critique of society,” he says. “I was hoping to call attention to an earlier generation of protest and see what we might be able to learn by bringing some of those voices into the present. Not as a way of criticizing an older culture or a contemporary culture but as a way of seeing what it might be like to live with that culture of protest.” To do that, he says, he wanted to create a soundtrack, and thus the album was born. But if his critique is so general, does he propose a solution?

“Ultimately people ask me ‘What should we do in society?’ I would just say ‘Think for yourself.’ That’s my only culminating message,” Hackman says.

The idea of protest is most obvious in songs like “Stomp Out the Man,” but it’s more hidden in songs like “All the Animals,” a song Hackman says he is the most proud of on the album. The song (and the first two lines) come from an Orthodox Jewish song that taught kids to eat kosher.

“It was kind of a mixture between James Brown and James Bond influenced by the Dead Kennedys,” Hackman says about the song’s melody. “And I really wanted to play with spy movie music, that was a really big influence behind it.”

Or there’s the increasingly absurd “A Boy and His Pony,” which was inspired by the work of Derrick Jensen.

“He essentially says that most problems in society can be boiled down to the very fact that industrial civilization is at odds with the natural world,” Hackman explains. “So the only true solution, in a very purist way, is the complete overhaul and dismantlement of civilization and a return to a more primitive, techno-negative version of society. ”

And so follows the song, as an anarchist boy frees one, then many ponies and…uses them to try and smash capitalism. “Perhaps there’s a little pony in everyone, waiting to be freed,” Hackman says. “And perhaps with that pony you can smash capitalism. And set your soul afire.”

But Hackman’s not above laughing at himself, especially in the intense “Bedbugs,” the subject matter of which is pretty self-explanatory. Hackman himself had them, and describes the way they transform a person’s life:

“You get so ridiculous when you have bedbugs. You meet people who had bedbugs recently or are living with bedbugs and they are paranoid and hysterical. It’s so shitty having bedbugs, it’s such a relief having something to laugh at. I wanted ‘Bedbugs’ to be a funny song.”

Though The Last Generation of Love has barely been out a month, Hackman is already working on the band’s next album, which he says will be a lot more personal—it’s inspired by the death of his father last September. And future albums will also be fairly thematic too.

“I think probably the next five years, the Holy Gasp will stop looking like a band and start looking more like an opera out of Synecdoche, New York,” Hackman says, laughing.

See The Holy Gasp play the Last Generation of Love tape release party at the Silver Dollar on Saturday, March 21 at the Silver Dollar. Full details here.

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Review – “As We Travel” – Snowday

reviewed by Chris Matei

Snowday - As We TravelAmbient music can be a tough nut to crack: set the dials a bit too loose, and it’s easy for the listener’s attention to wander away in mid-thought. Set them too tight, and you get the kind of machine-extruded downtempo pseudo-house that might play in the background of a relatively fancy nouveau restaurant. Fortunately, Snowday have lined things up just right on their debut LP As We Travel, an album whose spacious, ambling soundscapes reflect its choice of title.

The album is dreamy without feeling soporific, and its tracks all have a feeling about them that suggests the careful, delicate choices that went into their construction – little musical bonsais, trimming away things that aren’t quite necessary to encourage the songs to grow in the right directions. It’s a sound strongly influenced by the work of Tycho (“Days We Spent Apart” in particular), though it works at a groovy, soothing pace rather than outright replicating his trademark sweeping accelerations. Snowday does well here to set themselves up among alternative-electronic-pastoral contemporaries like Bibio, Baths, Shigeto and Bonobo.

As We Travel is far removed from the kind of minimalism that involves a lone sequencer blipping away in never ending loops. The Torontonian duo mixes rattling, clicking percussive shuffle with more traditional electronic beat construction, and brings sonic flavour from R&B (“Alaskan Cabins” and opener “The Seventh String”) and world music (“A Lone Stone” and the flamenco guitar licks  of “Eventual.”) “Regeneration” is the most out-and-out electronic track on the album, featuring smooth and precise vocals from Sammy Jackson.  “Walk Along These Rocks With Me” is pitch-perfect slice of musical optimism: it’s hard to disagree with the sunny vocal samples at its outset that proclaim “I will not worry about anything, ever again! I will enjoy every moment” as synthesizers bubble and cascade over its laid-back groove.

I love the feeling of snow days, even as an adult when they’ve become something rare and precious. Your cares dissolve in the realization that you get just a little while to be who or whatever you want instead of trucking off to the daily grind. You’re inside, you’re warm, and everything is blanketed white outside your window: your mind can go wherever it wants to go. A record like this one might be playing. It’s all good.

Top Tracks: “Walk Along These Rocks With Me”, “Days We Spent Apart”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “No Perfect Wave” – C Diab

reviewed by Jack Derricourt

C Diab, Vancouver, ambient

C Diab is at it again. It always seems that whenever I feel my musical tastes burgeoning with weirdness, that I’m reaching the top of the Holy Mountain of strange sonics, the Vancouver ambient bowed guitar maestro comes along to inform me that the owls are not what they seem. No Perfect Wave, C Diab’s March 2015 release, is another instalment in my education; from high flying movements of layered string hymnals to tightly wound car naps of noise, the album prepares the listener for new voyages into the belly of music.

Friendly accoutrements from Beacons return: the bowed guitar, of course; tape samples of surreal collapse can be found on “Your Interruption,” a very welcome recurrence indeed; the familiar experience as topical material is found on “Lying in The Back of The Car on Highway One.” C Diab has certainly found familiar things that he has to offer an audience.

There are startling awakenings within the common tongue, however. “Ice” starts from a similar place for C Diab. The echoes revolve and dance around the bowed guitar work. But then the choreography shifts. There’s a slicing grit to this new, expansive piece; a sinister tone creeps in; real aggression finds a place between the mournful, chirping overtones, in the form of throbbing, distorted, bass-heavy loops. “Silent, Still” is anything but, with flavours of Chinese upright fiddle work to the grating, harsh, conversation of the strings. And there’s “Stars Fall To Flames (shootout).” The track announces itself as filmic, and it certainly delivers. I always got a Morricone vibe from the arrangement of C Diab’s earlier stuff; it’s nice to see him set a scene with a piece like “Stars.” It also makes you dream of this man’s movie soundtrack work as it could be . . .

The crown jewel is “Three Pyramids,” a stellar piece of layered trumpet work that stretches out beyond the scope of the listener’s attention. This is C Diab’s real talent: the creation of scope with relatively minimal instrumentation. It’s always tastefully done, and on “Three Pyramids,” I think he’s really outdone himself, creating an ambient treasure trove of tonal interaction and atmospheric allusiveness. The track also features the most sensational resolution.

There’s too much to say about this one, so I’ll stop. But if you like your music deep like a well with no bottom, give No Perfect Wave a try — it promises to redeem anything that might have gone wrong with your 2015 listening experience so far.

Top Tracks: “Three Pyramids” ; “Lying in The Back of The Car on Highway One”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*

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Review – “Rosy Maze” – Marker Starling

rRozyMazeCovereviewed by Kirsty Chan

Marker Starling’s Rosy Maze is an airy dream steeped in more than enough hazy nostalgia to draw listeners into its swirl. Marker Starling is the newest alias of Toronto music scene veteran Chris A. Cummings, who fans may recognize as the man behind Mantler. Rosy Maze is the product of fifteen years worth of writing, and is set to be released on March 30th.

Cummings found inspiration in his love for films from the 40s and 50s, and the cinematic influence is evident even in the first track, “Flower of Laughter”. “Flower of Laughter” moves with a sense of easy whimsy that seems to gently propel Cummings through the rest of the album.

The second track, “I Guarantee You A Good Time”, lives up to its name with a poppy delight. It’s fun, it’s dynamic, and it’s simply a joy to listen from start to finish. The fun can’t last forever though, and Rosy Maze proves it has a pensive side too. On “Painful Spring” Cummings creates an atmospheric tribute to hope in the face of misfortune.

Perhaps the most poignant song is “Jealousy Edit (Interlude 2)”, an echoing rhythmic song that works its way into listeners. The looping vocal track is a demo of Dennis Fray, a friend and long-time collaborator of Cummings who passed away in 2012. It’s a beautiful, haunting tribute that fits perfectly with the flow of the album.

Rosy Maze is an album for daydreamers – the audio equivalent of a flickering home video of childhood summer days. It’s playful, thoughtful and well worth the spin.

You can check out the Canadian premiere of his new video for Uphill Battle right here at Grayowl Point.

 Top Track: “I Guarantee You a Good Time”, “Uphill Battle”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really good)

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Review – “Hors pair” – RELIEFS

reviewed by Anna Alger

Hailing from Montreal, RELIEFS create intricate songs with traditional rock music instruments that are dynamic and engaging for listeners, despite the absence of vocals – an element of a rock band’s sound that so often provides characterization.

“L’appât” is the first track, delicate guitar and understated drums providing a soft introduction to the band’s sound. Soon enough highly electric bass signals the beginning of more filled out, traditional rock instrumentation. The track quiets down a bit once again before launching into a period of strength. The guitar has more attitude now, recalling 90s alternative rock. Fizzling out in a distorted manner, the music tapers off.

The second song is “Des Carrières,” featuring a shimmering guitar solo amid light drumming with a feeling of power at its core. Rhythms stop and start, giving texture to the music. Concluding the EP is “Pavot,” a sprawling track filled with grungy guitar and slowly building drums that evoke a feeling of anticipation as the music gains momentum. 

Although it is only three songs long, there is weight and length to the offering that is Hors pair. RELIEFS establish themselves as a band influenced by a variety of rock musicians, melding these influences in order to create an individual musical attitude with a soundtrack-like quality.

Hors pair is available now via RELIEFS’ Bandcamp page. Currently the band is involved in a year long project in which they release one song a month. Their song for March is entitled “Fébrilité,” which you can listen to here.

Top Track: “Des Carrières”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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