One-on-One with D. Alex Meeks

                                                          

by Luca Capone

Interview with D. Alex Meeks AKA THE HOLIDAY RAMBLER!!! by Thenightshiftto on Mixcloud

Sitting at the Holy Oak bar, accompanied by the drink of all drinks, Campari and soda, I was quite pleased to finally have the chance to chat with D. Alex Meeks AKA The Holiday Rambler! Alongside the incredible music he was released as the sepia-toned, rhapsodical Rambler, he is also an outstanding drummer, having collaborated with an endless amount of jaw-droppingly great musicians/ensembles around Toronto, including the likes of No Angels Dancing, King Weather, DUST, Les Heures, Clarinet Panic, and of course, the band that most folks know him from, The Hooded Fang (Spoiler Alert: We barely talk about The Fang at all; Sorry Fang fans!).

Mr. Meeks is leaving Toronto for a couple of years to go on another odyssey-like voyage, so I figured I had to hear some of the astonishing tales from one of the city’s most exciting musical characters before it was too late. Our conversation touched on many notes, including how he literally grew up in the shadow of Pink Anderson, illegally eating watermelon in haunted cemeteries, chasing the dream of a jam band named after a certain type of sea creature, the genius of Casey Sokol, The unmajesty of shredding, the elegance of black metal, connecting with Vic Chestnutt and the spirit of the South, the nip ticklin’ drumming battle for D. Alex’s soul between Dave King and Milford Graves, achieving transcendence with Alison Cameron, and stranger nights at The Tranzac.

A couple of reminders:

  1. D. Alex’s last performance in Toronto for quite a time is going on Saturday, August 28th, 2015 at the Tranzac. He’ll be performing with No Angels Dancing. For more info, check out the Tranzac on Twitter. If I am not mistaken, the performance starts at 7:30pm!
  2. At the 4:41, you’ll notice a change in the sound quality of the interview. My Zoom Recorder’s sound card filled up, and stopped recording! Sadly, it scrapped an interesting bit regarding his time at Spartanburg Day School, and the influence that his music director, James Barnes, had on developing his musicianship. Oh no! Luckily, the rest of the interview was recorded on my phone. Oh ya! Probably for the better, because the Zoom has a problem with environments that have even just the tiniest bit of noise (Like a bar) I’m gonna go full on phone recording hear on end.

3. The band whose name I forgot that Dan Stadnicki plays in is called Jason Freeman-Fox and The Opposite of Everything 

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Review – “Tangerine and Blue” – Darrelle London

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis1426524774_front

Usually an endorsement from Perez Hilton would be a good indication to stay away—but when it comes to Toronto’s Darrelle London the gossip magnate (and recent Toronto theatre lead) might have finally exercised some good judgment. Now onto her third studio album, the poppy pianist plying Canadian adorkability is at her finest with her latest batch of oddball observations.

There’s something deceptively coy about London’s lighthearted vocals as they hop along the keys—so chipper they can almost make you miss the deadpan, and sometimes brutally honest, lyrics that really make her stand out. Mingled in is a fair bit of self-deprecation, truly “a candid portrait of modern life as an artist” and one that’s decidedly local as she sings about being caught between Lights and Drake on “After Party Girl.”

It’s a visual that easily translates into a quick way to sum up Tangerine and Blue—juxtaposing the struggle of making it as an artist with an airy soprano and just a dash of electronics. Opener “Not Friends” wastes no time lambasting the two-faced, shallow nature of the industry as the springing beat belying the song’s devious intentions and dramatic chorus.

But it’s “Viral” that finally explores some of London’s mastery of lyrical wordplay as she name drops some of the biggest online fads while ironically lamenting her own lack of a “viral” hit—even as the song conveys a self-assurance that she’s well on her way to fame too. While the song lacks the teeth of Stromae’s “Carmen,” it also reflects the way fame has been redefined, setting the viral video up as the ticket to fame instead of a label and paying homage to her crowdfunded release and the Internet star that took up her cause.

The breathy, layered voices on “You,” as well as a slower pace add a layer of depth to the album at just the right point—proving that there’s more to London than funny observations even as her lyrics continue to paint vivid, honest pictures. And “T-Shirt,” the third track of Tangerine and Blue’s romantic sojourn, comes out as the most polished—a catchy chorus with a satisfying built that shows off a different side of London’s voice and proves she’s ready to be more than a viral hit.

While the remaining second half of the album is never quite as witty as the first, it does a better job of showcasing London as an artist that should be known for more than her offhand remarks—as delightful as they are. A handful of slower tracks shake off a mold before it sets, taking her from talking about making it to showing it.

Top Tracks: “Viral”; “T-Shirt”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Rough Master” – Mauno

reviewed by Laura Stanleya2697553428_10

We’ve been following Nick Everett ever since he impressed us in 2011 when he teamed up with fellow Halgonians Poplar Pines for the split album Rocky Top and he’s kept us hooting with joy ever since. In his latest project, Everett teams up with Evan Matthews (multi-east coast band member) and Eliza Niemi (New Love Underground) to make Mauno, an experimental pop-trio that don’t allow for drift or stagnation but instead roll their multi-faceted pop songs into one hazy trip.

Each song from their debut record Rough Master melts into one another. Receding into the night’s fog or slipping down deep into a warm bath, the tracks are so tonally cohesive the eight songs go by in the time, and with the same naturalness, it takes to close your eyes.

Quickly jumping off, “Reeling” joins bare-bones pop with more chaotic, reverb-heavy sections. As the song grows in sound and emotion, the howls of Everett in focus, “Reeling” drifts into “Manitoba,” a swirling and heady all-instrumental jam. From there it goes right into standout track “Nothing.” Released earlier this year as part of Mauno’s split-tape with Vulva Culture, “Nothing,” anchored by a heavy bass, bounces from your headphones/speakers. A vivid and brief recount of misery and the search for what is no longer there, “Nothing” is one of my favourite pop songs this year.

With a confident sounding Niemi on lead vocals, “Burn This,” the album’s slowest jam thanks to its almost opaque makeup of reverberation and lulling drum beat, feels like a slow-mo, eye-roll aimed at whatever it is that needs to be burned down. Mostly made up of clean guitar picking, “Champs,” like “Nothing,” is a moveable, psychedelic-infused triumph that shines brighter thanks to that recognizable cadence of Everett.

Rough Master is a smooth pop listen even on the roughest of days.

Top Tracks: “Nothing” ; “Champs”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Poison Season” – Destroyer

reviewed by Jack Derricourt

destroyer

“Oh shit here comes the sun,” Destroyer proclaims on his new album Poison Season. I feel the absence of that sentiment already, as if the last flickers of scorching, abrasive heat leave me colder than impending fall ever could. It’s nice of Destroyer to lend me a hand and help me remember my hate of the balmy weather all year long. If you’re not familiar with Vancouver’s Dan Bejar, and his quirky poetry musing records yet, then you’re coming late to the party: 2011’s Kaputt was generally recognized by an academy of my peers as the most Princess Bride sounding album of the 2000s. It was also shortlisted for Polaris and one of the Hoefork’s favourite flava flavs of the millennium.

Poison Season is a beautiful egg full of new ideas. While Kaputt featured wide, deep echo, swaggering chorus, intimate 80s club atmosphere and the like, the majority of the new recordings are modern in voice, spacious and quiet. There are very dry, organic strings featured on several parts of the album — most wonderfully on “Forces From Above,” a scenic escapade of a track that sways to jazzy drum work. Fans familiar with Bejar’s Archer on the Beach EP, featuring his collaboration with immaculate noise artist Tim Hecker, will be excited to see the eponymous track make an appearance on this new record. Fans unfamiliar with said blast from the beach of time will enjoy the swelling brass and its tuneful manipulation accompanied by jazz piano licks for close to six minutes of zodiac boat rock.

Single “Dream Lover” stands apart, sounding most in line with Destroyer’s more aged material. A Phil Spector sax blares, guitars and piano join in the rock and roll bash, and typical boy-girl-strife lyrics punctuate the laptop speakers with positivity precluding prismatic palpitations. This single will literally kill you with pop sensitivity.

The triptych of “Times Square,” “Times Square, Poison Season I,” and “Times Square, Poison Season II” offers more than just the most passionate elucidation of a place name put to Canadian wax. The three songs set the tone of the record: reverent, fixed and imaginary, a ghost hymn.

This is easily one of the smartest records of the year so far. It should go a long way to being one of the smartest next year as well. Have fun.

Top Tracks: “Times Square, Poison Season I” ; “Forces From Above”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop* 

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Review – “Names” – Thee Ahs

a3141472765_16reviewed by Chris Matei

Vancouver’s Thee Ahs call themselves “black bubblegum pop” – and, much like my favourite imported Japanese candy, Black Black chewing gum, their latest LP, Names, is refreshing, sharp, and boasts a hell of a caffeinated kick.

Names is so named for individuals the band’s members collectively “dated, wished they’d dated, or wished they’d never met.” It’s an album full of chiming, jangling guitars and lo-fi drums that lift songs up as often as they give them punch, twee girl-group-pop-meets-nineties-shoegaze – somewhat similar to the vibe exuded so masterfully earlier this year by Alvvays’ self-titled and Polaris-nominated disc. However, unlike those Torontonians, whose sonic signature could be visualized in the scratchy, washed-out tonal warmth of a cherished 8mm home video, Thee Ahs favour a high-contrast. full-colour approach to songwriting. Their cotton-spun vocals reveal longing, vivacity and anger in equal measure, reaching peaks of distortion-thick angst and tension – as “John” demonstrates early on, exhorting the titular companion to “get in or get out.”

There’s a Morrissey-like plaintiveness and honesty in songs like “Andrew,” never mind the presence of guitars straight from the book of Marr with a dash of modern indie rock width and shimmer. “Alexandra” could be pure My Boyfriend’s Back (hey la, hey la) but it branches out in the choruses and bridge into something more melodically complex and beautifully cathartic. “Ridley” funnels a diary’s worth of observations and feelings into a single, poignant observation set on a teetering upward scale: “I have named chords after you” – and lets the emotional zenith crash back down in a proggy outro.

Thee Ahs’ previous LP, Corey’s Coathangers, had a punkier angularity, like Tina Belcher balancing tenderhearted awkwardness with the power to be a strong, sensual woman daydreaming vividly about butts  – or in this case, to proclaim “I hope you’re happy with your new boyfriend – does he know blue balls is all he gets? Whatever! Fuck her!” (as on “I’m Not Angry Anymore.”) Names channels these sorts of scraped elbows and complicated feelings into a sleeker package, defined by its deft manipulation of quiet melodies and gain-drenched dynamics as much as it is by the emotional resonance of its songwriting. That’s not to say Thee Ahs aren’t still capable of slinging a sick burn or two – “Davie” matches the lyric “I think it would be fine if I never saw you in the flesh again” with one of the sunniest, singsongiest choruses I’ve heard in recent memory.

We’ve all felt these kinds of emotions. Yawning distances that test our hearts’ resolve. The sting of betrayal. Bubbly, giddy squirming of endorphins, stomach butterflies, the desire to hurl bricks through sons-of-bitches’ windows and ride away laughing into the night. Names is the kind of record that makes us forget that people talk of a crisis in Vancouver personified by cold, distant people clutching iPhones, afraid to interact. It’s earnest without affectation, and rocks out without apology.

Top Tracks: “Davie,” “Andrew, ” “John”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Peoples EP” – Brett Wildeman

peoples epreviewed by Michael Thomas

Canadian acts have a particular penchant for creating recordings about people in general. Violent Kin did it, an album about how people aren’t connecting the same way with technology. The Burning Hell did it, with each song on that album about a different type of person, from “Barbarians” to “Industrialists.”

Brett Wildeman has taken the latter tack, with his Peoples EP bearing a description that sounds like literary fiction — three songs “written about different characters: an oil executive, a Chocolatier, and a sibling.” As with Wildeman’s previous work, his style of folk can be raw or more luxurious, depending on the circumstances.

Wildeman showed on Mother Earth that he’s not afraid to get political, and his frequent bike touring show he is in love with nature. It’s what makes “Flows Down” so scathing (naturally, this is the “oil executive” character). The simple, laid-back acoustic guitar picking that begins the song brings to mind relaxing on the beach, and the repetition of “It all flows downhill from here, boys it flows down” makes this a vicious earworm. But when the song starts asking “What are they gonna do? What are they gonna say?” the oil executive names a bunch of stuff big oil companies have done; destroying the environment, importing a foreign workforce, the list goes on. So even as another voice chimes in and the song adds stomping and clapping, it remains a wonderfully deceptive little song.

“Sister” (guess which character this one revolves around) is less pointed lyrically, almost more like a chant about how tight the sibling bond between two characters is. The arrangements are bigger here, featuring ukulele and a wonderful swell of trumpet from Thomas Biederman. The song says happiness grows “like rings on a tree” and also features a great little line: “Be your own friend, it’s all you need.”

Finally, “Evelyn” is a song about expanding one’s horizon. Mournful opening guitar sets the tone here, and images of the sea are meant to entice Evelyn, who hasn’t seen the world beyond the factory she works in. It’s clear she needs to get out and see the world.

As Wildeman continues to release these little gems, it becomes clear we need more folk music like his; folk that is (without sounding like too much of a hippie) in tune with the earth. It gently calls for change without the need for sloganeering or a primal scream.

Top Track: “Flows Down”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Transition Roads” – Ominar

reviewed by Anna Alger

Mesmerizing synth led bedroom pop is coming from Halifax’s Tawnie Lucas, better known as Ominar. Her second album, Transition Roads, narrates the growth and maturity that comes with a period of life changes.

The album begins with “Candles,” an understated beat bouncing underneath haunted synths and Lucas’ vocal harmonies. “We’re burning houses,” she repeats hypnotically. Burbling synth melodies stand out in the following song, “Distance,” reminiscent of early Stars. “To The City” opens with an eery vocal and piano combination which is filled out by a basic beat. “Take you home, I’ll take you with me,” Lucas urges. She ends the song with the line, “current’s getting stronger,” feeling the pull of change.

“Just to Feel” is an effort to cut through self doubt and regain strong emotions. Lucas wants “just to know [she’s] still pretty” over a looping beat and piano lines in a minor key. The tempo speeds up in “Waterfall,” featuring more propulsive percussion and a wash of synths. Guitar is introduced in the album’s last track, “The Idea,” an inventive evolution of Ominar’s sound.

Ominar’s downtempo, sparse songs are carried by her vocal, synth, and piano melodies. This is an album full of lyrics questioning relationships and the lack of control we can have over what occurs in our lives. Ominar communicates the emotions one goes through in these situations with honesty via the direct nature of pop, providing an engaging listen.

Transition Roads is available via Ominar’s Bandcamp page.

Top Track: “Distance”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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