Review – “Blank Tape” – Diamond Mind

blank tapereviewed by Michael Thomas

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since this Edmonton band’s jaw-dropping debut, Fake Tape. It was a hell of a calling card, subtly showing the many facets of the band, much like their precious-gem-referencing name.

Seemingly continuing a series, another tape has appeared, this one called the Blank Tape. Same uncluttered art with a simple “DM,” but vastly different from its predecessor. While Fake flirted with genre—from electronic pop to throwbacks to another era—Blank has the guys settling down on a sound.

As a result, it’s not as surprising, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to devour here. Honing in a kind of psych-y Britpop song suits them well—all fuzzy guitars, catchy melodies and vocal harmonies. It’s hard to emphasize how smooth this all is. It’s easy to imagine the band cranking these beauties out effortlessly.

The crown jewel of the four-song EP is undoubtedly “Acid Jungle,” wisely chosen as the collection’s single. Spacey sounds greet the beginning of the song as bright and sunny guitar work comes in, and the main vocals are sweet as honey. But don’t neglect the lyrical eloquence; phrases like “the modern winter waits and wonders why there isn’t snow” are exquisite to roll off the tongue.

“Little Lung” seems to draw some inspiration from the Beatles with just a bit more fuzziness, and the refrain of “Now I’ve only five leaves left” will take a long time to leave your head once in. “This Street Goes Straight Forever” tones things down just a tad, but playfully breaks up the music with a few music-less vocal parts. Finally, “Hark” adds some keys into the mix to for a psych-pop song to dance to.

Given how much the band flexed muscles on Fake Tape, it makes sense that they settled in a little bit on this one. Here’s hoping their next record continues to show off more glittering facets.

Top Track: “Acid Jungle”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Premiere: Man meets Bear – “Lucan”

Huronian Cadence (cover art)

The prolific Man meets Bear (a group that apparently features an “experimental housewife”) is about a month away from releasing a new album, Huronian Cadence. But until then. Grayowl Point is happy to premiere the Toronto band’s first single and video from the album, “Lucan.”

The video, created by Kitchener, Ont.-based artist Melissa Boraski (who also makes music as Eiyn Sof), is a seemingly abstract affair, starting with a shimmering grey and moving into something more cosmic, until the end of the video reveals a surprise. The accompanying song is wonderfully jarring, starting off sounding like a lo-fi campfire song before becoming a massive wall of sound.

Check out the video and song below, and look out for Huronian Cadence on May 15.

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Review – “Back It Up” – Holy Roller

reviewed by Laura Stanley a0548964322_2

It’s easy to believe in the London, ON band Holy Roller. Their music is a bright blend of pop-rock, almost surf-rock, is moveable, and damn catchy. For whatever reason, the unrelenting sunniness that’s usually paired with this style of music is not fully present in Back It Up. There’s a disillusionment that’s clearly at play in the trio’s debut EP that balances a brightness with just enough darkness to make the band multi-dimensional. It’s surf-rock on a rainy day. A party where a fight breaks out.

“Everybody Knows” and “Solider On” are the best examples of this balancing act. In the former, some fun “woo-hoos” (reminiscent of the Arkells) lighten the sadness (like the line, “everybody knows that something, something that’ll tear your world apart”) that fills the deceitfully catchy chorus. The riff-tastic “Solider On” similarly has a poppy sound that hides sadness – in this case a tale of heartbreak highlighted by the line, “beat me black and blue but I will solider on.” 

“Back It Up” is the prickliest of the bunch. Heavily charged with fuzzy power chords, its rough and focused demeanour make it the EP standout. Even the chorus’ simple repetition of the line “back it up” is able to avoid feeling too redundant and instead just adds to the strength of the song.

If “Back It Up” is the roughest, the explosive opener, “Bicycle Day” is the smoothest. With guitar parts bouncing around, it’s retro-pop vibe is hard to deny, completing Holy Roller’s solid debut.

Top Track: “Back It Up”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Constellations” – Zaac Pick

reviewed by Chris MateiZaac Pick - Constellations

Vancouverite-by-way-of-Medicine Hat Zaac Pick has been hard at work putting together his debut LP, Constellations. The album, coming on the heels of a pair of EPs released in 2009 and 2011, is being released independently and not without some anticipation: Pick’s fans and supporters raised more than $16,000 through crowdfunding in less than a month to help finance the project, which was completed piece by piece by way of cross-country contributions from each of the band’s members.

Fittingly, Constellations is a carefully paced record, one that steps with confidence and grace through modern folk territories and timbres coloured with modern lyrical and compositional flourishes. Pick’s soft, slightly drawling vocals and bright, clear acoustic figures are joined by an impressive array of orchestral strings and even the occasional swirl of synthesized texture (as on the melancholic “Fury on my Mind” and “Fault Lines”, which both play brooding bass against crisp, tremulating electric guitar licks.)

The album’s songwriting is broadly evocative, personal and emotional: the sense of weightlessness implied in the lyrics to “Impossible Blue” is mirrored in the shimmery lift of its choruses, and “Slow Kind Light” seems to glow with an onomatopoeic warmth and openness. In a recent interview with Beatroute Magazine, Pick described the album’s emotional balance:

“a number of songs on Constellations came from some heavier life events around me the past few years, but I like to look for a hopeful thread in them.”

Though lyrical and poignant throughout, and sometimes sombre,  Constellations isn’t a downer record. Case in point: the jangly, upbeat “Bright Ideas,” which seems strongly inspired by Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” in sections.

One might draw comparisons from some of Constellations to songs like “Morning” or “Blackbird Chain” from Beck’s recent (and stellar) Morning Phase – though Constellations’ tendency is to allow more space and breathing room around the lyrics, opening up places in each song where the decision to make use of a hair less production polish allows more potential for dramatic shifts in scope. “Roses” is exceptional in this regard: Pick’s stark verses leave space for lush strings and loping bass to fill in the colours around them as the song builds to a powerful peak. Album closer “Kites” accomplishes the same projection of sweeping scale.

Constellations is a record that indeed balances well: forceful, though quiet. Ambitious, yet intimate. Indie and folk, without resorting to the tropes of either of those genres. The positioning of the album’s heart directly on its sleeve will catch the ear the first time you hear it, and the depth of its musical and lyrical details will only help to draw you back again.

Top Tracks: “Roses”, “Kites”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Skydome Hotel” – Skydome Hotel

reviewed by Jack Derricourt

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You have to be a certain kind of brilliant to name your Toronto-based ambient psych band Skydome Hotel. That selfsame structure towers out and into Rogers Arena — but really still the Skydome, despite whichever corporate backer might be putting up the dough — a strange, monstrous facility, cradled between the shoreline and the main rail arteries of Toronto. The band finds a stillness between mechanical motion and the tides in their stellar, self-titled sonic outing.

The recordings are improvisational, which is a very open-ended description for what is obviously a carefully melded collection of pristine instrumentation. With no hesitation, the players contribute to each other’s direction and influence with aplomb. Twists and turns in the sound grow orgaincally, making the whole experience of listening to the record a very sombre, but engaging one. The drums are particularly well recorded by Ray Cammaert at the Tin Shop, providing a swaying body over the course of the album — especially on “Yes I Said” and “Yes I Will.”

There is an abundance of things to like on this record. Ornithologists will delight to the birdsong found at the start of “I Really Did Feel Rejuvenated.” Santana maniacs will adore the guitar wailing featured in “Bored of Canada.” Cool synthesized tones bleed through the tracks, enticing the ambient tech nerd in us all.

However, one must have a favourite. “Peter Gabriel” is an astonishing bit of jam, spread over scintillating, improvisational toast. There’s too much to like about this track: the drums shuffle like pure, moving water; the guitar lines build and evolve until a gorgeous crescendo of dynamic peaks and keeps on peaking. If Skydome Hotel found this groove by accident, it a was a happy one indeed. I don’t care how much I hate Peter Gabriel — I honestly believe he’s the tax cut for the rich of all things musical — my ears are all the better for this piece of Skydome Hotel.

Today is opening day at Skydome. The brogrammers will flock from the hills to dispense beer and abuse all over each other. Nine innings will be played, though few will be there to pay attention. And corporate hacks will line the windows of the attached hotel, drinking it all in, watching the money roll. I will be watching in the crowded stadium, and perhaps, as the loudspeakers sing to me, instructing me to “Clap my hands,” and “make some noi-oise,” I will think back on the driving grooves and wide open spaces of Skydome Hotel. Perhaps, they’ll help me make it through. Perhaps.

Top Track: “Peter Gabriel”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*

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Audible/Visual Hoots: Bravestation, Do Tell, Lonnie in the Garden & more

lonnie

Still from Lonnie in the Garden’s video for “Song 3″

Do Tell – “See-Through”


Vancouver’s Do Tell (Jocelyn Price) is poised to make a big splash with the release of her debut EP Midseason out June 20th. With EP contributors like Jordan Klassen and Andrew Huculiak (We Are The City), Price has some great company but in “See-Through” she shows her own power. In a poppy projection of the complexities and doubts that are coupled with being in a relationship, Price’s voice is light and welcoming despite the sadness that fills her question, “Do you ever see right through me?”

Laura Stanley

Bravestation – “Haven”

Bravestation have been a little quiet lately, but that silence ended a couple weeks ago with the announcement of a signing to Culvert Music and a new EP on the way. They also released a catchy new track, “Haven.” The song is a nice balance of the sound Bravestation built a cult following around and their more experimental electronic sounds. A wash of synth opens the song before Devin Wilson’s distinctive vocals kick in. As with previous songs, it’s a dreamlike affair, made all the better by Jeremy Rossetti’s kickass percussion. Needless to say, we’re excited about where this band is going.

Michael Thomas

Scattered Clouds – “Enchanteresse”


Just like a scattering of the clouds in the sky forebodes gloom, so too does this band have an air of foreboding around their music. Though relatively quiet at first (ditto the deep vocals) it surprisingly reaches loud peaks throughout, constantly keeping the listener guessing. This mysterious band will perhaps become a bit less mysterious with the release of their latest LP on April 21 on E-Tron Records.

MT

Safia Nolin – “Igloo”

Francophone musician Safia Nolin’s emotional song (highlighted by Nolin’s rich vocals) “Igloo” finally got the video treatment and is it ever perfect. A heavy song about getting lost in (or hiding from) the messiness that surrounds you, the video starts off like a very sad homage to “Thrift Shop” before tracing Nolin’s snowy journey back to her apartment and her own igloo.

-LS

Hawk and Steel – “David and Kate” 

In the vein of John Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane,” Joel Plasket’s “Nina and Albert,” the numerous renditions of “Frankie and Albert,” comes Hawk and Steel’s new song “David and Katie.” From their forthcoming record Anywhere But Here, due out June 23, “David and Katie” is the story of a bank robbery gone wrong, a notable plot difference compared to the previously mentioned songs, set to the tune of Hawk and Steel’s warm alt-country style.

-LS

Lonnie in the Garden – “Song 3″

This great London, Ontario band continues to evolve, and it’s hard to think of a time they were more kickass than right here on “Song 3.” The video contrasts pristine, still now with the darker presence of the woman in the video, and the beautiful vocals of the song make the song haunting—until the guitars start to kick in for an unexpectedly adrenaline-filled ending. #Lonnie2015

-MT

West Nile – “TURNT 2 CULT”

Holy shit, London, Ontario is on a roll in this roundup. We don’t know a heck of a lot about this group, but we do know that they are producing music that is too good to not listen to on endless repeat. “TURNT 2 CULT” is the band’s second offering and it’s filled to the brim with 80s synths and an irresistible groove. We need more of this, ASAP.

MT

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Review – “Lines” – Taylor Knox

reviewed by Laura Stanleycover 

For those who have recently seen Hayden perform, Taylor Knox is the fresh-faced, long haired musician playing bass, guitar and drums (not all at once) in the band. Hell, if you’re a fan of Canadian music at all there’s a good chance he looks familiar as Knox has also toured with bands like The Golden Dogs, Owen Pallett, Zeus, and Sloan. Hinting at releasing his own stuff years back, Knox has finally released his debut EP and is it ever packed with classic power pop.

A familiar combination of distorted guitars, drums, bouncy bass notes, “oohs” and “aahhs,” it’s six songs steeped in nostalgia. They’re filled with the summer sun and everything that’s often paired with it – love, heartbreak, etc. The breezy opener “My Backyard”perfectly fits this idea, as it feels like lying in your backyard while contemplating going out and experience what life has to offer.

Throughout Lines, Knox’s takes interesting approaches to worn out narratives on love. Unlike Neil Young in “A Man Needs a Maid,” Knox, in the very catchy “That’s What You Do,” sings of not needing a woman to clean up after him but rather someone who makes him feel worthy. In “I See Lines,” Knox also wants to find the right partner but hoping that things will be easy, singing,“I want you to be a tree that I can climb.”

Beginning with a few quick power chords before moving into a pop-rock sound that Knox does so well, “Fire” is the definite standout from Lines. In a multi-facet number, guitar solos, a harmonious bridge, a simple but effective chorus all make this song the excel. Whether you read the “Fire” as literal or metaphorical, when Knox ends his tune with the line “there was a fire, you can’t deny it,” you’re really can’t. This song is smoking.

The closer, “Good Enough” turns in the high powered style of the previous tracks in exchanged for a stripped down acoustic number. A great way to wind down the EP, “Good Enough” is no less poppy than the rest of the EP but much more obviously sincere. A song about uncertainties, Knox quietly repeats, “I’d never thought I’d be good enough” for an emotional ending.

With the weather trends the way they are, Lines might be just what you need to make it to the summer months.

Top Track: “Fire”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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Review – “Studies In Trance” – Hazy Montagne Mystique/ YlangYlang

reviewed by Jack Derricourt

studies

Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are set to spend a year in space. While it’s been done before on the Mir space station, spending that much time beyond the earth has never been the main project. These two chaps will send their bodies hurtling through the orbit of the earth each morning, cascading around mankind, entranced by the beauty of our infinitely tiny existence in the universe.

How do we mimic this feeling, this otherworldly association with our planet? Until Richard Branson and Elon Musk get us all out among the stars, it might just be Studies in Trance. The new split tape from Arachnidiscs puts Hazy Montagne Mystique and YlangYlang on different sides of the drone spectrum — the former in a fourteen minute long tonal question, the latter with a triplet of shorter, more actively inquisitive pieces.

Hazy’s “chant / is sera lointain” is a beautiful car wash of white noise. The listener is placed at the center of the recording, with many objects and delights that flit across the stage for the entertainment of the ears. Initial voices, imitating chants of mystic quality, give way to static and throbbing bass synth notes. The piece is stripped, collecting nuances of natural disorder, and keeping things entrancingly not of earth.

YlangYlang’s portion of the split is a wide turn away from his counterpart. The tight, piled transitions of “Temple of Tears” encroach upon the ears with dense sonics. I almost found it too much, the bird song crowding a steel drum synth and revolving door tones; but this is a maximalist piece of music, condensed. The highly pleasing “Smoking With Spirits” is a delightful collection of space debris, a wealth of synthesized sighs and melodic highs. Crowding the short minutes with a cast of drone-worthy characters, YlangYlang creates a fruitful cosmology, rich in contrasting tones.

Whatever life in space for a year must feel like, Studies in Trance is a gorgeous half an hour of drone music. The air around your speaker system will thank you for listening to this gem. I wonder if there’s any way to send it up to the ISS on Mr. Musk’s next cargo delivery?

Top Tracks: “chant / il sera lointain” ; “Smoking With Spirits”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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Review – “Some Kind of Family” – Les Jupes

reviewed by Chris MateiSome Kind of Family - Les Jupes

When people talk about the Canadian music scene, Manitoba might not come up as often as some other provinces located to the more extreme west or east of the country. However, Michael P. Falk is aiming to change that with his work as owner of Head in the Sand, a label/recording collective that features such talents as Royal Canoe, Rococode, and his own bandmates in the dynamic indie rock quartet Les Jupes.

Les Jupes have travelled a long and challenging road leading up to the creation of their newest LP Some Kind of Family, a record which has been described by the band as a “rebirth.” The album took well over a year to complete, with quite some time elapsing between songwriting and recording. The latter process was a task for which they enlisted some serious talent in producer Marcus Paquin (whose credits include The National) and mix engineer Tony Hoffer (likewise Beck and M83.)

The band displays finely crafted and diverse songwriting and arranging abilities that shape and reshape the strengths of a few core elements. First and foremost of these is Falk’s resonant baritone, which seems equally comfortable in hushed introspection or a full-on rallying cry. Propulsive, energetic indie rock tracks like album opener “When They Dig Us Up” or the rushing, synth-powered “Everything Will Change” segue smoothly into billowing, vulnerable ballads like “The Brothers” and “You’re Burning Up” and back again across Some Kind of Family. Les Jupes demonstrate a particular knack for kicking things into another gear in their choruses – especially on the aforementioned rockier cuts, but also in the sinister shift that twists “One Is Enough” into something with an icy, glamorous menace or the keyboard-driven rocket launch that blows right through the middle of “On Miracles.”

There’s a continuous tension here between profound melodic movements and simple underlying chords, emotive vocals and grounding instrumentation, bursts of electronic exuberance and moments of quiet. Only “I Want Answers” feels a bit strange in its adherence to an Iron & Wine-version-of-“Such Great Heights” mode (from the chord progression right down to the lilting acoustics.) That being said, it’s a far cry from Mr. Beam’s whispery minimalism, showcasing mournful sweeps of pedal steel and cello as well as spacious piano and background vocals that lend it a sombre beauty.

Listeners looking to branch out into new sonic territories that span a wide emotional range from icy ballad to glittering power-pop will find something to like in Some Kind of Family. Stay tuned for its release on the 14th of April and take a listen to “Everything Will Change” below.

Top Tracks: “One Is Enough”, “On Miracles”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good) + *swoop*

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Chris Page announces tour dates, premieres “Hunker Down” with Grayowl Point

CP_VOLvsVOC_proofby Michael Thomas

Chris Page is well-known as the front man of Camp Radio and occasionally strikes out as a solo act. A little more than five years after the release of the electric guitar love affair A Date With A Smoke Machine, Page is going softer for his new album, Volume Vs Voice, out April 21.

On this outing Page presents several soft folk songs, and while he’s turned down the volume the songs are still distinctly in his own voice.

To celebrate the new album, Page has announced a string of Canadian tour dates. Check the list:

April 22 – Vancouver, BC @ Skinny Fat Jacks
April 23 – Calgary, AB @ The Ironwood
April 24 – Saskatoon, SK @ Vangeli’s
April 25 – Edmonton, AB @ The Brixx
April 30 – Charlottetown, PE @ Baba’s
May 02 – Halifax, NS @ The Carleton
May 09 – Ottawa, ON @ Raw Sugar

And to celebrate the release, Grayowl Point is happy to premiere the track “Hunker Down.” There’s a real warmth to the strummed acoustic guitar, making lyrics “I ache to have you closer” that much more charming. Stream it below.

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