Review – “Lonesome Ghosts” – Blue Moon Marquee

lonesome ghostsreviewed by Michael Thomas

There are two ways a band can be considered “good.” They can either be great at what they do (read: a particular genre, like chamber folk or psychedelic rock) or they can be a band that wholly reinvents the way music should sound like. While the former is often not as interesting to hear, one of the exceptions to this maxim is Blue Moon Marquee, formerly AW Cardinal.

Cardinal first came to the blog’s attention with the excellent Stainless Steel Heart, which fully revived a genre that has influenced a slew of modern music—the old timey blues, the type you’d hear in the Mississippi Delta. While the name of the act has changed, the music definitely hasn’t, and that’s a good thing.

The band itself never goes too heavy on the instrumentals on Lonesome Ghosts—it’s usually a pleasant mix of brushed drums, double bass and keys, with the odd bit of strings. It creates what the band calls “Gypsy blues,” which combines blues song structures with a touch of alt-country. The blues is very apparent, as the song arrangements often use the twelve-bar blues structure popularized during the 20s and 30s. At times, the material seems to be winking back to that era, especially in the stellar “Trouble’s Calling,” with references to the devil who seems to be riding a “dead black horse.”

Otherwise, the songs touch on standard blues subjects—alcohol (“Scotch Whiskey”), women (“Gypsy’s Life” and “Sugar Dime”) and the workman’s life (“Pipeliner Blues,” a cover of a Moon Mullican song). Cardinal’s raspy vocals anchor the songs to the listener’s attention.

Just like Stainless Steel Heart, the song lengths are kept in check and breeze by in a flurry of bass and keys, but there’s at least a few songs where the songs take on a slightly different tone. “Bishop Street” is another highlight, which gives off a kind of happiness that is, well, the opposite of the blues. The title track, which also closes the album, is forward-looking optimistic despite the spooky subject.

The band’s self-described “Small town Alberta” home base should be glad to have this band, which glances backward for inspiration but remains thoroughly, thoroughly forward.

Top Tracks: “Trouble’s Calling”; “Bishop Street”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Lotsa Thoughts” – Man Made Hill

a1748008636_2reviewed by Elena Gritzan

The first time I saw Man Made Hill play a show, he covered his face in shiny silver face paint. The second time, he paired his vocals with the sole sound of a sander scraping across a drum. While he has a minimal presence on the Internet, it quickly became apparent that Randy Gange’s Man Made Hill project is a pervasive, inventive, and downright amazing part of music in Toronto.

Lotsa Thoughts, the most recent offering for the prolific creator of “existential disco”, is impressively strong. It certainly is filled with lots of thoughts – swelling to the size of 21 songs and 58 minutes – but the thoughts sound so refreshingly new that it keeps attention spans intact. The production is deliciously lo fi, leaving it sounding like transmissions over an imperfect connection from another dimension.

Each bite-sized song is built around a repetitive phrase that undulates in such a way to become infectious. This is first obvious on “Subtle Scum”, a song that plays on its title by creating a small disharmony between a palatable beat and dissonant punctuating synth chords, though in continues to varying degrees on each song of the album.

There are playful lyrics everywhere, from instructions to “nod your head and say yeah” to the chorus of single “Constant Touching”: “I want every part of my body touching every part of your body.” It’s a sexy sentiment at first, but when you start to think about it, it’s actually slightly off in its physical impossibility.

His vocal delivery spreads between acerbic and aggressive (“Wretched Seed”) to light and fun-loving (“Globe Pit”). The latter song is especially entertaining, bringing to mind a mental image of a childhood bouncy-ball pit. But with inflatable globes! That’s certainly a place that I want to visit.

In fact, the entirety of Lotsa Thoughts creates a surreal and engrossing universe that you’d do well to spend some time in.

Top Tracks: “Constant Touching”, “Globe Pit”, “Lotsa Thoughts”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Mòn” – Appalaches

reviewed by Laura Stanley a3629785216_2

Montreal all-instrumental band Appalaches brand themselves using two sentences: “We are Appalaches. We are loud.” Bursting with hearty rock epics, the honesty of these two sentences certainly rings true in the four piece band’s debut album, Mòn.

In these days where instrumental bands like the even louder Shooting Guns or hip-hop infused jazz trio BadBadNotGood are on the Polaris Music Prize long list, it’s becoming more apparent that the country is full of talented all-instrumental bands pushing genre boundaries. The Appalaches are an example of such talent. If you are not already tuning into these creative expressions, you better get on it.

Despite the loudness, many of Appalaches’ songs have a languid quality about them. By that I don’t mean that they are weak and weary, they are the opposite, but rather they feel unhurried. With just five songs timing in at over forty minutes, each number gives Appalaches room to sprawl out. It’s in the band’s ability to stretch that allows the versatility of their soundscape to really shine.

“Spotari,” the over nine minute long opener, begins with very warm tones; an afternoon drive on a summer’s day would go well with the song’s opening minutes. But it’s around the three minute mark where the intensity kicks up. In an explosion of sound that weaves in and out of the rest of the song, Appalaches flex their ear-splitting capabilities. Shredding the nice picturesque summer’s drive I described earlier along the way. 

Beginning with some similarly light tones, the band’s shortest number, Nōmse, feels no less complex and drawn-out compared to its album mates. Bookended by a great guitar riff that sounds as if it could be echo off mountainous walls (a nod to the band’s name?), Appalaches is clearly not afraid to add some light to their gloomier sounds. 

While all of the songs have strong qualities, the final track, “Soleicare,” carries with it something exceptional. Perhaps it is the fact that it is place at the end of the record, making it the big finale, but each note seems grander. Pushed along by a strong base line, the power of the song builds to the six minute mark where something special happens. Appalaches allows listeners to take a quick breath, and you are going to need it, as a quiet moment of stray guitar notes briefly takes hold of the song. On the other side of the quietness, a wall of sound is unleashed as the final minutes of the album are pure chaos of blissful noise. 

Appalaches’ Mòn gives even more proof that you should always make time for instrumental soundscapes to take hold of your mind.  

(What gorgeous album artwork to boot!)

Top Tracks: “Soleicare”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good) 

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Review – “Sheer Luxury” – The Lonely Parade

sheer luxuryreviewed by Michael Thomas

Last month, the results of apparently eight months of work with four bands led to the release of several albums. Not only was this a great idea for releasing music, but it also pulled the spotlight on some great talent from Peterborough, a town not particularly known for its indie scene.

One of the bands that took part in this adventure was the Lonely Parade, three girls who play exceedingly catchy and clean pop. Sheer Luxury was born from their efforts, and is a total breath of fresh air.

Charlotte Dempsey, Augusta Veno and Anwyn Climenhage know first and foremost to keep their songs short. It makes their songs inherently more memorable—not that the songs aren’t memorable on their own merits. The simple range of instruments weave insanely catchy melodies, and nearly every song has at least one quotable lyric. Better yet, every song seems to be skewering something or someone, and lyrics about that are always super fun to hear.

Crucially, the band doesn’t let one particular talent (witty lyric-writing) overshadow another (catchy melodies). Opener “Empty Cure” takes a bit before Dempsey’s vocals come in, allowing the listener to get lost in her funky bass playing and Veno’s simple electric guitar notes. “She Can Wait” sports sunny, surf-rock guitar hooks with lyrics like “A painted face doesn’t hide what you’re harbouring inside/What are you trying to prove?”

When the band leads towards punk the fun increases tenfold. “My Mom” is one of the album’s standouts, telling the hilarious story of a 23-year-old wannabe punk-rocker hitting on the singer’s 49-year-old mother at a punk show. Or the minor-chord-heavy “Sad Life,” a series of rapid-fire proclamations about a life not wanted: “Don’t wanna grow up/Don’t wanna get a medical degree/Fancy cars are shit/I won’t drive them they’ll drive me.”

Punk culture and overachievers aren’t the only things the Lonely Parade take aim at—”Fake Break” eviscerates religion and its ability to devolve people, while “Tip of an Iceburg,” with its laid-back guitar and casual drums, gives hipsters a few punches in the face. “You were nothing before it was cool/Tip of an iceburg, you’re such a fool,” the song begins, and later speeds up the tempo for a sweet guitar solo later on.

Peterborough is starting to look more and more like an awesome place to be, and it’s the young talent—like Watershed Hour and now Lonely Parade—that are starting to really put the place on the map.

Top Tracks: “My Mom”; “Sad Life”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Dial Tone” – Steve Adamyk Band

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis unnamed-3

Ottawa’s Steve Adamyk Band had more than one new thing to boast about after completing their fourth full-length album. While the band is declaring Dial Tone their “garage rock masterpiece,” it’s also the first time the band has released an LP that has the same line up as the one that came before.

It’s an accomplishment lead Steve Adamyk had been hoping for since the band’s inception—having long grown frustrated with lackluster commitment in other projects. This time around, as the group headed to Oakland, CA to record with Matthew Melton (Warm Soda, Bare Wires), Davey Quenselle, Dave Forcier and Sebastian Godin were back for another turn in the studio along with guests Melton and Danielle Agnew (Primitive Hearts).

Having categorized their full-length releases as an evolution from pop with Forever Won’t Wait to punk on Third, the latest strips away some of the punchy in-and-out from their more punk-driven releases without losing an appreciation for short, octane-fuelled tracks that know not to overstay their welcome. The hints of pop punk are still dribbled throughout Dial Tone, appearing in surprising places like “Suicide,” a darkly named track that brings up the familiar urge to get moving that comes with any new music from the quartet.

Other tracks, like “Crash Course in Therapy” and “You’re the Antidote,” offer the staple garage rock you’d expect. But wedged between those tracks are a handful of songs where the band finds a way to fuse their three distinct sounds in a four-song journey that blends pop and punk with their new clean-cut direction.

“M.R.I.” steadily plods through the intro before plunging into a racing chorus, adding a hypnotic twist to the way Adamyk belts out his fuzzy vocals. Coming out of that crashing finale is “Last In Town,” which opens with the vaguely tongue-in-cheek “Did you know I’ve never been to war?” as it induces motion. “Empty Cause” feels like an extension of this, with the exception of a bouncy guitar riff that adds some much needed pop to the mix. “Waiting For The Top” is sparse on lyrics, but it’s a full frontal assault of energy that never lets up in the two-plus minutes it races past with its siren-like guitar.

“Anne” picks up where some of this leaves off and “Mirror Ball” brings some warmth with its chorus of “Oh ohs” and a surf-rock touch. As “Never Gonna (Ever)” strikes its first chords, it’s obvious the album is winding to a gentler close. While the distortion continues, the pacing slows and brings things neatly to an end while holding firm to that garage rock mentality.

 Dial Tone comes across as a tidier version of Steve Adamyk Band when compared to their previous releases, but the life never goes out of the songs. Still, it’s when the band mixes their different directions together that things really pick up, especially while throwing back to punchy lyrics and energetic rhythms that just make you want to thrash around in a way that looks as fun as it sounds.

 Top Tracks: “Last In Town”; “Waiting For The Top”

 Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Totenbaum Trager/ Projet Muet” – Totenbaum Trager/ Projet Muet

Reviewed by Jack Derricourt

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Arachnidiscs have done a fantastic job with their new release of Dominic Marion’s Totenbaum Trager/ Projet Muet split. The two projects are different journeys taken by the same traveller down a road of sublime surroundings. Horns, bells, droning guitars, and all things improvised create a compelling pattern over the course of the split release’s five tracks.

The tape begins with the hypnotic, guitar-laden material of Totenbaum Trager. The aeolian harp is alive and kicking with “Western Wind,” the opening track of the album. Lounge Lizards and rock afficianadoes will find things to adore in this sparse musical construction, that pushes things wide open with its nearly sixteen minute run time. “Hung to Sarah Kane’s Shoelace” follows with an entirely guitar-based structure and sound. The atmosphere created by Marion is at its most raw in this, his most basic piece.

Listeners will find it easy to lose themselves in the minimalist, choral effects of the guitar work on the album’s first half. The Projet Muet material, a trio’s love affair with free jazz and industrial, tweeting sounds, may be a different challenge for the audience altogether. On “Prévision pour un projet muet,” the tension builds through vibrating fuzz, long horn tones, and the smattering of bells, creating a sharp edge for the rest of the cassette’s sounds to be set teetering upon. “Madspook’s Doppleganger” follows close behind, sheltering ghostly tones and provocative vibrations of guitar noise. It’s tempting to say that all the Projet Muet material could be one long song of woe, but there’s something more complicated to these three pieces. The final composition, “Dragging a Dead Tree Up the Hill,” demonstrates a complexity of mood and colour that sends the album off with greater dimensions. A confusion of bells opens the piece, at once both beautiful and intoxicating, to be put into conversation with animal calls as produced by the saxophone and guitar; the progression feels entirely organic, and resounds with satisfying resolution.

Dominic Marion’s variety of work on the new Arachnidics release is impressive. Not only can he provoke the ears of the listener with a guitar and an ebow, he can draw deeper emotions out through arrangements of improvisation shared between disparate instruments. It sounds like a simple admission, but, listening to the album, these minimalist pieces are revealing and tender in a way that many musical pieces will never be. Disturbing at times, drawn out with a deliberate desire to stretch the attention span of the listener, yes, but every minute of music on the split release is inspiring and refreshing.

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Top Tracks: “Western Wind” ; “Dragging a Dead Tree Up the Hill”

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Review – “Coal EP” – O’Haara

Coal EP Coverreviewed by Elena Gritzan

In an interview with blogTO at the end of 2012, Castledrum Records founder Rob Ross said that was he is “drawn to those artists who glean emotion and narrative from tools and instruments that are often described as “cold.’” The newest release by the label, the debut EP from London, Ontario-based producer O’Haara, fits cleanly into that. A strong sense of story and feeling come out in the three songs despite, or even because of, their electronic tool box and lack of lyrics.

There is little information about O’Haara online, just a Soundcloud dating back three years stuffed with odds and ends. Though sometimes not having an idea of who the person behind the music is makes it possible to be completely absorbed in it as it speaks entirely for itself.

“Coal” has two parts: a playful and mysterious flowing section that moves slowly through repeated scales, and a driving dance. The entire arc is punctuated by the sounds of humanity. Laughter, tears, and spoken words poke out of the instrumental woodwork to give the impression of a living, breathing community.

It fades into “Freres”, which features small ominous build-ups, the sound of ghostly echoes driving past, and occasional kitchen utensil percussion. A disembodied woman’s voice floats throughout, never quite forming a word or even a defined vowel sound, resulting in a song that could soundtrack any run through a haunted mansion.

The trio ends with “Slow TV”, which builds in volume up to a softly played melody that rests on top of a wavy and hazy batch of sounds. The same groove sustains itself for the entire five minute song, occasionally dipping into quieter moments and weaving its way into brains.

It’s easy enough to sit back and experience the journey that O’Haara is trying to take you on. It might not be a summer vacation, but it’s a beautiful 15 minute break from your everyday life.

Top Track: “Coal”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

 

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Audible Hoots: bsd.u, Heard In The Mountains, Math Club, Orphan Mothers

Why hello, Audible Hoots! It has been ages since we posted about you. I hope you have kept well. Here are some of the numerous singles, songs, and EPs, that have been catching our ears as of late:

bsd.u – “A5 bmo” 

The sounds of bsd.u, the project from Victoria native Matthew Veselisin, are from another world. In a lo-fi mix of hip hop beats and ambient vibes, bsd.u’s record Lighter, really does float and is a possible dark-horse to appear on end-of-year best lists. In “A5 bmo,” Veselisin combines a scene from your friends’ favourite animated show, Adventure Time, with an ominous vibe and repetitive beat that’s quite haunting.

 

Heard In The Mountains - Pool Party 

Initially catching our ear with their debut EP Will to Well, Heard In The Mountains are back with a split single, Pool Party. In a slight shift away from the “indie-rock” genre that Will to Well is primarily comprised of, both songs, “Pool” and “Party,” feel softer. Although a similar instrumentation from their EP is used, it feels like Heard In The Mountains took their time in the creative process by allowing the notes to hold significant weight. “Party,” in particular, carries a darkness with it that shows the band exploring new territories.

 

Math Club – “Hunter” 

“Hunter,” the debut single from Hamilton band Math Club, oozes with teen nostalgia. Drowning in the just-rough-enough emo sounds that were the soundtrack to your moody years, “Hunter” captures that feeling when you realize you’re getting too old for this shit and that lost love is better off lost. “Hunter” truly hits home right before the two minute mark when the instrumental picks up and lone Math Club member Wade Morrison asks, “How’s your Dad? Is his hair still long? Is he still going strong for the Maple Leafs?”

 

Orphan Mothers – “Towers” 

“Electronic music from the Prairies for open spaces in tight places.” Orphan Mothers’ band description says almost everything there is to say about their first single. A electronic beat pulses throughout “Towers,” varying synth noises are scattered, and the light vocals from Eden Rohatensky weave between the soundscape they create. With the Prairies as a steady foundation, “Towers” builds a promising future.

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Review – “Mary” – Ivory Hours

maryreviewed by Michael Thomas

As a disgusting heat wave settles into Toronto, it seems once again the right time to pull out the old music-writing cliché of the “summer album.” A young band out of London, Ontario deliver summer in spades with Mary, the latest EP from Ivory Hours.

Ivory Hours have everything you need for a great summer album— boy-girl vocals, laid back instrumentals and a whole lot of fun. Check, check and check. The band is like a slightly-less-complicated version of Said the Whale.

Over the six songs of Mary you’ll probably end up with quite a bit left in your head, as the band clearly has an ear for hooks. There’s the youthful exuberance of “Nettle,” with its summery guitar chords and sort-of-breathy lead vocals from Luke Roes, backed up by equally nice vocals from sibling Annie Roes. Or the deceptively warm vibe from “Young Blood,” actually a song about that one thing missing from your life that would make you happy.

The title track is equally subversive. Underneath some very pretty guitar work is a song about a dangerous addiction: “Mary felt a little low, needed a pick me up / Mary tried a little coke now she can’t get enough” starts up the song, and it only further explores the effects on the song’s subject, as she finds herself unable to sleep and starts to become more paranoid.

Less subversive is the breezy opener “Hello Honey” which also highlights one of the band’s greatest assets—Chris Levesque on bass. His loping bass lines are great, and it stands out especially here. “The Attic” is another fun song, as a simple tribute to a loved one.

Simplicity is key for this band—no songs breaks the 3.5-minute mark, and the instrumentals never overwhelm the vocals. A solid summer album indeed.

Top Track: “Hello Honey”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Come & Go” – Hilary Grist

reviewed by Eleni Armenakis a2799200879_2

There’s something immediately captivating about Hilary Grists’ vocals on the opening notes of her second full-length release, Come & Go. Her delicate yet full-bodied voice sweeps you up quickly into the soundscape she creates using minimalistic instrumentation, moving through each song with an irresistible charm.

It’s been four years since the Vancouver songstress (and Quesnel native) last released a full album, filling the space with a number of EPs that have seen her music showcased on community stations, the CBC and a number of Canadian television shows. The latter is hardly a mystery as Grist crafts tableaus with her voice and lyrics that in lesser folk breeds the kind of early evening daydream that summer is destined for.

Opener and titular track “Come & Go” is a perfect introduction to this as Grist’s vocals are matched with a piano more than willing to let her voice take centre stage. The rhythmic, growing beat finds its stride as the tempo increases, offering up the kind of sound you want to design a monumental scene for. Still, it’s the emerging, steady drums on “Damned” that give Come & Go a certain playfulness to offset the darker direction she’s taken on since 2010’s Imaginings.

In contrast, “Fall To Pieces” seems to luxuriate in that mood as Grist takes on singing plaintively, showing off her range through the song’s more dramatic moments. Subsequent “The Trade” steps back even further as Grist takes on more gentle notes and the simplicity of an acoustic guitar is given anthemic qualities through the accompanying instrumentation.

It’s “With You” that shakes up the somber turn of the album with its punchy beat and joyful chorus along with “Waltzing Matilda,” evoking some of the more well-known indie female vocalists without appearing to be emulating them—a distinction that discourages comparisons even though it would be fitting to pair Grist with the likes of Norah Jones and Regina Spektor.

For all that Grist offers up a mesmerizing 10-song journey in simplicity, “Goodbye Ghost” is refreshingly stripped down even by these standards—conditions that allow Grist’s vocals to show off their fullest range while also tapping into a far more subtle connection. Follow up “Lay Your Heavy Head Down” offers up a far more typical ballad, but Come & Go ends well with the haunting “In Dreams,” which lingers on after the final note.

Despite having established herself as a strong force in Canada’s indie-folk scene, there’s a sense in Grist’s second full-length album that she’s still pushing herself to see what else she can do. The experimentation is paying off as she shows off the very best of what she’s accomplished here, while promising greater things to come.

 Top Tracks: “Damned”; “In Dreams”

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

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