Review – “E P L P” – TEENANGER

e p l previewed by Elysse C 

Just over a year after Singles Don’t $ell, Toronto garage rockers TEENANGER are back at it with an eight-track album, the closest thing to “summer jams” they’ve ever produced.

It’s a short, sweet, EP of an LP, and Telephone Explosion advertised that the album is “best enjoyed while: being pleasantly high, making one last trek to the cottage, lamenting the oncoming cold, wearing shorts.”

With these images in mind (and wearing shorts), the album helped me evoke my favourite summertime teen shenanigans: skateboarding along the waterfront, jumping into a public swimming pool late at night, and shotgunning beers on a suburban street, which E P L P serves as the perfect soundtrack for. While the album has a relaxed feel, it’s true to TEENANGER’s style. Each song is blunt, yet bouncy, aggressive, but not overbearing. If a punk album can be smooth and harsh at the same time, it’s this one.

My favourite smooth-yet-harsh moments are: half way through the track “Twisted,” there is a really, really well-placed sax solo, “Sky Saxon” is a silly punk track, and “Mild Survival” is a hypnotic song with female vocals. “The Sequel” is mildly psychedelic, and my favourite by far.

So while we bid farewell to summer, we remember it through E P L P, which incorporates elements of “summer jam” punk rock, borrowing from psychedelic, garage, and surf.

E P L P is out on September 9th through Telephone Explosion (Listen here)

Top Tracks: “The Sequel”; “Sky Saxon”; “Hot Rods at the Loser Convention”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , ,

Review – “Pink City” – Jennifer Castle

reviewed by Laura Stanley IF009_1400x1400_300dpi_RGB

Take all of your ideas about what a city feels like (chaotic, polluted, panic-filled) and quickly dismiss them. Jennifer Castle’s Pink City, in contrast, is a place built on clarity, level-headedness, and, in turn, filled with a sense of calmness. It is with this album’s atmosphere that allows Castle’s multiple talents and all of those involved in building Pink City, to shine. In all, Castle delivers one of the strongest folk records of the year.

On the record’s surface, Castle’s standout trait is her voice. Rooted in a time that is not our own, it holds a rich and multi-dimensional tone. Always in control, she varies between a lulling croon (“Truth is the Freshest Fruit”), a more playful temperament (“How or Why”), and spine-tingling wails (“Sailing Away,” “Pink City”). Digging a little deeper, listeners will discover lyrics on both a micro and macro scale. Between the more personal or general worldly observations, Castle has a knack for characterizing the little things which are often the most important.          

In the opener and symbolically titled “Truth is the Freshest Fruit,” Owen Pallett’s contributing string arrangements, which are featured throughout the record, provide a solid backing for the emotional pitches of the song. With its hearty instrumental build, Castle cries out, “can anybody hear me? I speak clearly,” for one of many emotionally rich songs.

For another poignant and full number, some of Castle’s most impressive vocal work comes in the record’s first single, “Sailing Away.” In a song that speaks of fearless freedom, Castle let’s out a stunning cry of liberation around the two minute mark that makes from an incredible moment in the album.

The idea of the utopian rural escape from the daily grind is brought to song in one of the standouts, “Sparta.” With a melodic flute scattered throughout, provided by Ryan Driver, “Sparta’s” description of the changing seasons is easy to cling to this time of year but it’s Castle’s ability to transport you to “the farm that we saw all summer” that’s particularly impressive. 

Despite the at times downcast folk style, Castle sprinkles a lighthearted touch throughout Pink City. Whether it’s the throat clearing as found in the upbeat and melodious “Down River,” the line “I lift my skirt for the economy” from the darker piano driven “Nature,” or the various background noises in “How or Why,” the weightiness of the album feels much lighter.

Timing in at a little over the half an hour mark, Pink City ends. Driven by a saxophone (Brodie West) that is a great partner to Castle’s vocals, the album’s title track feels like a moment of reflection taken at the end of the day. “Pink City” oozes with emotional complexity and one of numerous examples from the album of the strong folk songwriter craftsmanship that is still alive and well today. 

Get lost in Pink City.

Top Tracks: “Sparta,” “Down River,” “Sailing Away”

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

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review – “Outer Rooms” – Outer Rooms

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

Outer Rooms, art rock, Toronto, indie

An April album for your showering September. It was recorded in April 2014, into a humble black box of home recording prowess: Outer Rooms and the story of their self-titled EP. Self described epic art rock needs an intro like that.

The new four track EP drives a station wagon to the edge of the Canadian Rock cliffs, then swerves back towards power pop villages, leaving tire marks in the shape of Michael Ondaatje novels as they go. That self-recorded sound is impressive, never limiting, and the heavy tracks sit comfortably in the ears. The piano and drum recording is particularly good: it definitely sounds basement bred, but it’s mixed exquisitely (that would be Andrew at Above the Jewellers at the console for all those tasty levels). They’ve also made some stellar cd art, something you don’t see every day.

The leadoff track “Ribbons” is a slow build in the style of U2 epic. Matt Frewen’s excellent drum fills captivate and Justin Rivet’s bass keeps the listener rivetted to the groove. The changes in key, dynamic, vocals, are all very natural. Even the dropping of the band name in the song’s lyrics is not heavy-handed, it just slips in there.

“I Left My Eyes” is this year’s Guess Who hearthrob song. Well, it’s got eyes in the title. But the song does have some killer minor chords poured into a palm-muted breakdown; that’s a seriously ominous pairing with dark lyrics concerning strange worlds. The piano melody at tune’s end has a Wilco vibe as well — and that’s the last band name drop in this review, promise.

“Domino Backyards” is easily the killer song of the EP. A trip back home after moving to the dirty city is the story being told. The text of the lyrics is guided tightly by the verse, pre-chorus, chorus sections. The pinched, squawking guitar work takes the lead, depicting the inner tension of the speaker. It’s psychological, it works, and the track has a beautiful resolution.

The finale “Rawhead” might sound like the intro song to an urban cop show, but it’s actually a high drama involving cicadas and tinkling piano noise. It’s great.

These Outer Rooms show a great deal in the course of four tracks. They push the sounds to all corners of the rooms, inner and outer, and come together with impressive, passionate song. Check out the EP streaming now, check it out in its limited cd run, and check out the band at the Cavern on September 19th.

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Top Tracks: “Ribbons” , “Domino Backyard”

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review – “The Woods” – Coldwater Road

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis Coldwater Road - the-woods-front

Frequent buskers Coldwater Road must have found the perfect setting for their music when they ended up as part of VIA Rail’s Artist on Board program. The fluid Vancouver band—that sees its numbers fluctuate from three to six, with Patrick Spencer at the head—seem to have turned traveling folk music into an art with their first studio album, The Woods.

While “Dear Eurydice” was the first of the seven songs I heard (and, admittedly, a comically alarming love song that immediately won me over) the entire release brings to mind Canada’s rolling, often wooded terrain even if that’s not where the album got its title. The second track offers up that story, about Spencer’s grandmother in the 1920s, who found herself living deep in the woods after marrying a logger. Spencer and Missy Cross go back and forth as the couple—the kind of storytelling lyrics that define the band’s sound and reveal their troubadour influences.

The songs of The Woods are largely preoccupied with love, but that age-old tradition crashes into modernity with Spencer lyrics. On broken-hearted intro “Drive,” he sings “I’ll buy an old Pontiac/I’ll put the top down/And then I’ll put you in the back” before promising to follow her on Twitter in “Dear Eurydice”—just one of a number of hilarious threats he makes in the song (“If you met another man/I’d punch him in the face/The violence makes me angry/But this would be a special case”).

Despite the immediate charm of the latter track, The Woods mostly takes its themes seriously. Spencer’s voice as a touch of Joel Plaskett to it (and a similar sensibility) while Cross graceful vocals balance him out on a number of songs. Moving into the studio has built up on their acoustic debut, “Street Side” and added a polished touch, without losing the band’s busker roots.

Still, it’s the influence of great storytellers, including the band’s self-stated appreciation for Johnny and June Cash, Bob Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot, which define Coldwater Road. The way Spencer strings together words and ideas is the most captivating element of The Woods. Even as “Time To Fly” emotively closes out the album with some of the best vocal work from Spencer and Cross, it’s the imagery they create that lingers on long after the album rolls towards its final note.

Top Tracks: “Dear Eurydice”; “Time To Fly”

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

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review – “The Three Poisons” – Elephant Stone

the three poisonsreviewed by Michael Thomas

It’s hard to believe that Elephant Stone’s self-titled sophomore album only came out at the beginning of last year. Just about a year-and-a-half later, the Montreal “hindie-rock” band has returned with The Three Poisons, which sees the band continuing to embrace the sounds of the 60s while introducing a heaping helping of groove, as well as synthesizers.

The groove addition is most easily heard in first single “Knock You From Yr Mountain,” featuring the most killer guitar line this band has ever done—seriously, the band has never sounded this awesome. The ominous riff goes well with Rishi Dhir’s lyrics about “climbing up your mountain.” Also note the driving guitar that opens “Child of Nature (Om Namah Sivaya)” before some skillful drumming and a backing of organ propel the song forward.

One thing that distinguishes Elephant Stone from its competition in the field of 60s-indebted bands is the use of sitar, and while previous albums usually make listeners wait to hear it, this album begins with “Motherless Child (Love’s Not For War)” featuring, you guessed it, a copious amount of sitar. Sitar also appears in the brief interlude “Intermediate State” and the nearly six-minute closer “Between the Lines.”

Elsewhere, keyboards add a ton of flair. “All is Burning” is a psych-pop song that gets gradually more psychedelic as it goes on, as Dhir’s vocals begin to shimmer. Then the keys come in, and by the end of the song there are female vocals to add another new dimension to the continually-morphing song. “Living For Something” takes the tempo down a bit with kind of surf-y guitar chords and the sound of a funereal organ.

As with any record that riffs on psych-rock, you can also expect plenty of instrumental solos; look no further than “Three Poisons” and “Echo & the Machine.”

With each full-length, Elephant Stone’s sound gets sharper and sharper, so it remains to be seen how much ass they’ll be kicking when album number four comes around. In the meantime, allow the band to knock you from yr mountain.

Top Tracks: “Knock You From Yr Mountain”; “Child of Nature (Om Namah Sivaya)”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Review – “Spanish Boomerang” – Ambrose

ambrosereviewed by Elena Gritzan

Montreal’s Ambrose released their debut single “Hourglass Sands” back in October 2013, and now it’s finally time for a debut EP from the duo. It’s fitting that some time has passed, as the EP deals with seasons, the passing of time, and the inevitable change of interpersonal relationships, all to the sound of beautifully executed keyboard electronics.

It starts with “Hourglass Sands”, which expresses the ephemeral nature of time in a staircase melody. “Sifting through my hands, the hourglass sands on the distant beach,” sings Marigold Santos, voice warm and full. “I thought my grip was firm and I held it in my palm, but I woke and the dream was gone.” You might think that you have a control of time, but it never fails to get away.

The summery beach imagery transitions into some more weather imagery. “Winters” has a slower driving pace, and is set in the stark cold of February, and depicts a cold and distant love.

“Citadel Passage” represents June, though the kind of early summer month where winter’s cold breath lingers. The mood is mournful as the narrator realizes that her partner was more in love with the feeling of being loved than with her as a person, resulting in a sound like the wistful hope of spring compromised by an icy lack of compassion.

The album does end on a sunny note with “End of the Cold Days”, light and heartfelt like the first appearance of the sun from some heavy clouds.

Ambrose seem to have perfected the art of emotional synth pop: accessible, well-executed, and emotionally relatable.

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Trop Tracks: “Hourglass Sands”, “Citadel Passage”

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Review – “Idols In The Dark Heart” – Valery Gore

reviewed by Anna Algera2300490499_2

Toronto musician Valery Gore is continuing to grow her audience in the wake of extensive touring during the past few years, broadening the appeal of her music with upcoming third studio album, Idols In The Dark Heart, featuring a more challenging take on her love of the pop form.

Elements of industrial music open the latest offering from Gore, in immediate title track “With The Future.” Her lilting vocals draw comparison to those of St. Vincent, as do the minimalist moments within songs throughout this record. The album begins to find its footing by the third track, “Amsterdam,” which features a beat sounding like it was taken from Beck’s Modern Guilt. Intricate synth and piano lines are complemented by strings on this song, providing a strong bed of instrumentation over which Valery sings. Track “Evergreen” features a jerky rhythm that fills out in the last minute or so, as well as a male vocal. This song changing styles lack some fluidity, but it doesn’t serve to drag the whole album down.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this record is the variety of instruments used, what with songs such as “July” featuring a bass line which sounds as if it is led by a bass clarinet, not the most used instrument in pop. “New Year’s Eve” evokes the feeling I associate with repeated listens of Kate Bush’s 50 Words for Snow, the soaring piano and strings enveloping the listener.

Overall, the rollicking beats, strong, evocative vocals, and varied instrumentation are really able to engage the listener by presenting a cohesive body of songs. This is a well crafted release from a promising musician who displays continual artistic growth from album to album. Valery and the other musicians she plays with bring significant writing chops and comfort performing various instruments to this record, succeeding in the creation of a unique listening experience.

Idols In The Dark Heart will be released on September 9th. The album can be pre-ordered via Gore’s Bandcamp page.

Top Tracks: “New Year’s Eve,” “Hummingbird In Reverse”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Why Drake Should Win the Polaris Prize

Drake, Photo: Jess Baumung

Drake, Photo: Jess Baumung

by Eleni Armenakis

Drake’s place on the Polaris short list might be the most contentious nomination this year. While the Polaris is awarded on merit, there’s a strong undercurrent of thought that suggests the prize, and it’s $30,000 reward, are better off in the hands of Canada’s up-and-coming musicians—more so, that is, than big names like Drake. But it’s also hard to deny Drake is deserving of Canadian recognition considering how dedicated he still is to his hometown, especially on an album like Nothing Was The Same, which he partially recorded in and around Toronto.

Drake (a.k.a Aubrey Drake Graham) once again indulges in his trademark style of self-reflective hip hop, alternating between straight rap and more musically driven mixes. Still, NWTS is no Take Care –Drake’s forays into the past aren’t the dark, jumbled swirl of emotions that carried him into the mainstream. There’s a sense of order and wizened experience this time around as he resists his usual brooding calls for more straightforward nostalgia.

It’s on NWTS too that Drake’s ties to Toronto come out clearly—on “Connect” he maps his route through the city’s highways at night, capturing not just numbers and signs but a sense of that youthful thrill and innocence that goes with the memories. And on “The Language” Drake proves he still has edge as he verbally rejects his surroundings, “Get what I can out the country and then I just get on a jet and go back to the cold” before segueing into the bass-laden “305 To My City.” While much of the album seems to be dedicated to his newfound status (especially the infamous “Started From The Bottom”), the album’s memories seem more distinctly tied to his older life in Toronto and its people.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a certain amount of posturing going on, from the meta six minute “Tuscan Leather” with it’s slow fade, “How much time is this […] spending on the intro?” to the album’s first single (with the video’s not-so-subtle nods to Canada and Toronto thrown in) in which Drake makes the bold claim he’s reached the top. While it’s the sort of assertion that doesn’t always wash down easy, the admission also shifts the album’s reception. NWTS is a vastly different beast than the two full-length albums and EP that preceded it—it’s no longer a predominantly hook-filled struggle to prove himself. And yet, even with his perceived success it’s obvious Drake still felt the need to push himself further instead of once again releasing the kind of music he already knew would be popular.

Because yes, “Started From The Bottom” is almost irritatingly catchy, and “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is yet another anthemic ballad. But beyond the initial singles, Drake’s engaged in some creative experimentation, changing things up by singing soulfully at the beginning of “Own It” instead of delivering the same old beat. And there’s a certain amount of respect on display when Jhené Aiko nearly steals “From Time” as her softly sung “I love me enough for the both of us” juxtaposes perfectly with his harsher words, revealing an appreciation for the guests on the album (not all of them as predictable as Jay-Z) along with the confidence to let someone else command the song.

And while Drake has never hesitated over the kind of admissions other rappers would never dare to say, there’s a bold vulnerability as he reveals, “I hate stopping for gas this late ‘cause there’s […] creepin’,” turning NWTS into a confessional of all his youthful insecurities even as he boasts about his new status—not a new move, but it’s hard to remember lines this open on his previous work. It’s part of a larger return to the past brought on by coming home—and given just enough time and distance to turn them into the kind of verses that let us in while still maintaining that artistic presence.

It’s this strange mixture of continuing to push himself while creating his most overtly patriotic album yet that justifies Drake’s place on the short list of Canada’s treasured indie prize. It’s easy to convince yourself to work hard when you have something to prove, but harder to avoid becoming complacent once you’ve reached the so-called top.

Posted in Grayowl Rants & Raves | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Shad Should Win The Polaris Prize

Photo by Justin Broadbent

Photo by Justin Broadbent

by Laura Stanley

“Tough topics get hushed and life is often unjust.” – “Y’all Know Me”

Shadrach Kabango aka Shad K. aka Shad, is no stranger to the Polaris Music Prize. After co-hosting the gala with Kathleen Edwards in 2013, and this being his third time on the short list, it seems only fair to call Shad a Polaris Prize veteran. But like Jon Hamm and the Emmy and Leonardo DiCaprio and the Oscar, Shad has never won his chosen prize.

As Shad’s third nomination, The Old Prince and TSOL were nominated for the prize in 2008 and 2010 respectively, Flying Colours is the brightest jewel in the old prince’s crown. It’s finally enough to push Shad out of the Polaris Prize’s “friend-zone” and into official, because let’s be honest, he is already a champ, winner status.

Without getting too much into the Shad vs. Drake argument, Shad is the most important rapper in Canada right now. In boundless brilliance, Shad covers such topics as love, loss, politics (both national and local), race, class, and other socially pertinent issues. And that’s often just in one song. Unlike the line from “Y’all Know Me” as noted above, Flying Colours does not conceal the difficult truths in life but rather shines a light on the unfair nature of the world.

Shad fits in with the rich intellectual traditions of the hip-hop/rap genres and stands alongside great Canadian songwriters at large. His lyrical prowess is one that is rarely matched in contemporary Canadian music.

“Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)” is one of the numerous stars of the record but just one small part of the emphatic enterprise that is Flying Colours. The richness of the song is timeless. From the line, “the Natives probably relate more to immigration” and “to the guys that draw lines and make the borders real but then bend the rules when there’s more to drill,” “Fam Jam” is a politically charged narrative of an immigrant experience. In an incredible feat, the flaws in the state’s toted ideas of Canada’s “inclusivity” as a multicultural nation are deconstructed in a three and a half minute jam.

For one of the more somber moments of the record, “He Say She Say” is a poignant love story for the digital age. With ease, Shad transitions from an up-tempo track that connects his political statement with the musical appeals of the mainstream, to a song that adheres to the hearts of those who struggle to follow their dreams in a limiting relationship. In a strong and mournful interpersonal moment, the hook of the song is a repetition of the simple line, “then I wanted to do a verse about how they worked it out but…”

Not his final note on the subject, in “Love Means” Shad speaks of the universality of love for more socially relevant commentary:  

“So love is costly but love can save and I’m of the faith
But ‘love your neighbour’ isn’t a Christian or Muslim phrase
No one owns it as some brothers claim.
From the pulpit or from the stage and in the coming age
I hope we’ll see it as gay, straight, and colourless.”

Oozing with confidence, in “Stylin” (featuring Saukrates) Shad addresses a problem that he, as one of the most accessible rappers in the country, often comes across: the uncertain rap fan. By tackling the underlying (or perhaps not so underlying) racism that’s attached to this, in a hilariously deadpan voice, Shad mimics, “you’re sly dog, and you’re from Africa, right? That’s amazing. That’s really great, fascinating.” Before saying, “See, I got fans that say, ‘Oh hey Shad, I hate rap but I like you,’ well I hate that, but I like you…so I won’t spite you, it’s not your fault you’re a white dude who likes white music I like too, just don’t be surprised by my IQ.”

Alright, so he can write. But can he rap?

Although it’s not really a problem per se, the lyrical skills of Shad often overshadows his musical aptness. As the other half of why Flying Colours truly soars, Shad’s deliverance ranges from subtle to powerful to assertive, varying at all the right points, but always done in a smooth, fast-talking, lyrical manner that makes all of this subject matter go down easy.

Rather than it being exhaustive or a complex narration, Shad allows you to be part of his creation. Shad and the record’s numerous contributors produce artistically complex (“Intro: Lost” featuring Lisa Lobsinger, Kamau & K-OS), instrumentally layered (“Dreams”) and genre bending (“Remember To Remember” featuring Lights) songs. The seven plus minute epic “Progress (Part 1: American Pie, Part 2: The Future is Here),” is the most musically complex as it builds from raw verses inspired by Don McLean’s “American Pie,” to multi-synth beat backed intensity, to finally the, surprisingly, sung, acoustic guitar centred part two of the song.

Time and time again, Shad proves that he produces compelling recordings. Flying Colours comes at an intense political climate around the world where it’s more evident than ever that history does not remain in the past and we should not be static beings. Flying Colours is a small summary of the present and should be honoured accordingly.

Will the third time be the charm for Shad?

It’s time, Polaris jurors. It’s time.

Posted in Grayowl Rants & Raves | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review – “Casio Fiasco” – Tyson

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

Tyson Casio Fiasco

It’s always a shot in the arm when you hear an established musician take on their first solo album with aplomb. Guelph Ontario’s Tyson Brinacombe has been an integral part of multiple Canadian projects, including the seminal balladry of Esther Grey, for a while now. But his new solo album out on Little Room Labs, titled Casio Fiasco, is a treasure trove of introspection and sonic delights.

Just as the title suggests, the album is peppered with casio lines, making every tune familiar and sublimely dimunitive: Tyson’s compositions often feel like Steve Miller Band licks transformed for the living room. The lyrics deal in personal confessions, topics scaled to the sounds of the album: on “New Scene,” Tyson rattles out feelings of lackadaisical aging — “I used to be proud to be reckless and loud, but now I’m a bore.” — while “Fish Out of Water” resounds with friend and family dynamics (not fish dynamics, I swear). The production on the album has an appropriately homey atmosphere about it, with dry electronic drum lines and crisp guitar recording taking the main stage. The overall feel of the album is twee and fancy free.

There’s a lot to fall in love with on Casio Fiasco — the name alone is enough to grab hold of a large section of the music nerd community. “It’s You” has Beach Boys class, thrown together with synth lines and a bunch of duct tape. “Rabbit Marsh” is a dark waltz wonderland, and Tyson finds a beautiful balance between video game soundtrack and tearjerking piano work on the track. “Secretly” swells with a compelling, driving beat and a plethora of sounds familiar to fans of the Unicorns.

Tyson has made a singular record that should branch between fans of Caribou and Thee Oh Sees. It’s exciting to see such a great Canadian album come out. Make sure you pick up a copy for yourself real soon.

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Top Tracks: “Wrong Crowd” , “New Scene” , “It’s You”

Posted in Grayowl Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment