A Few Overlooked Acts in 2018: The half-way through edition

We owls review a lot of music but always end up feeling like we could review MORE! To quell that feeling, twice a year we make a list of albums that almost passed us by but feel must be celebrate. Enjoy!

by Kaitlin Ruether, Laura Stanley, & Michael Thomas

brtrnd – Laundry Room

The pulse of brtrnd’s (pronounced Bertrand) EP Laundry Room elevates steadily. As the electronic EP roles out, the senses are heightened in the same way they are going into a basement laundry room that has one, flickering, bare bulb, lighting your way. Every creak is an intruder. “Mezzanine,” though, starts off on a pretty hilarious note as we hear some guy asking brtrnd for his “exclusive shit.” Here the muffled voices made into beats sound like a party. But the sliced up voices on the next two tracks – “Frozen” and “All and Only Those” – have a much more sinister vibe. These voices are scattered throughout their respective tracks and work their way up to a flurry so it feels like they are circling around you. Closer “Gonima – Left” brings the EP back into more mellow territories and is the softest songs thanks a swirling synth taking up the majority of the soundscape. Laundry Room is danceable and chillable but I can’t shake its eerie undertones – Laura Stanley 

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Baby God – Baby God

This one came out so late in December 2017 that I wouldn’t have reviewed it until January, and I’m glad I got to it eventually. To picture this album, picture some circa-70s warm folk sounds filtered through context-less tourism ads and a small dose of weirdness. You can enjoy these songs on their surface as beautifully played, tender songs, but the actual songwriting makes some very interesting observations. “Meanwhile, A.Y. Jackson” sees a woman in a thin black coat shivering in the snow; in “All of the Time,” a crown is given to a beloved, and he or she can choose whether to be a king or queen. The album’s weirdness is only there in little patches, but it’s enough to make Baby God a very far-from-typical folk album. – Michael Thomas

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Gulfer – Dog Bless

The only piece of punctuation in the lyrics for Dog Bless’ opening track “Secret Stuff” is an exclamation point at the end of “It’s just like my house but way bigger, better!” — and this mirrors the urgent and excited music that Gulfer makes. Most of the lyrics are delivered in a vocal burst of energy, as though the emotion is exploding out of Vincent Ford. There is also an interjection of complexity: just sit with those math-rock guitar riffs and try to hold onto the threads. Rarely do you get to hear emotional turmoil twist around with a sense of playfulness, but it’s in this territory that Gulfer seems to do their best work.

“Fading” begins with a chirpy vocalization of the guitar riff, which when it comes is all the more satisfying because of the tease. The electric guitar throws continuous flourishes into the mix (notable examples include “Be Father” and “Judy Froster”) while the vocals are sometimes assisted by a chorus. Even when it slinks into poetically somber territory on “We’ve All Done Wrong”, the drums thrum to life. With three instrumentals (“Blessed” parts 1,2, and 3) throughout — the whirliest one closing the album, Gulfer finds unity through transference and balance of energy. An exclamation point of a record! – Kaitlin Ruether

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Birdie Whyte – Going to the Races 

Ottawa’s Birdie Whyte is a banjo wielding storyteller. In Going to the Races‘ four tracks, Whyte sings of a day at the races, a flustered meeting, loneliness, and love, all, from what sounds like, on her front porch. Whyte and her banjo are joined by various pals on mandolin, guitar, and contributing backing vocals. It’s like she has thrown a party and whoever is playing on the track has wandered outside to join Whyte for a quiet moment. The giddiness of opener “Going to the Races,” is timeless. This could be a horse race in 1920 or 2020.  The plodding rhythm of “Pardon My Lips” is, fittingly, shy. The gentle melody of “Little Bird” sounds so familiar to me I thought it was a cover but nothing showed up when I searched the lyrics so it’s probably not. Chloe Laberge’s penny accordion on closer “Simply Bliss” is blissful. Come on out and join this quiet respite. – LS 

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Too Attached – Angry EP

It seems like Vivek Shraya never stops working. Aside from her solo music and work with the Queer Songbook Orchestra and her writing, she also makes music with Shamik Bilgli as Too Attached. Three years after their Bronze EP, Angry is a tonic of insanely catchy electro-pop that also manages to be very empowering. Everything about this EP is huge and unapologetic; it feels like the kind of music that will obliterate sound systems when performed live. Every stray synth sound is bold and powerful, and it’s not an accident. The title track is as passionate and fiery and you’d expect, and it’s an incredible opener. However the EP truly reaches its peak with “Grateful,” where Shraya and Bilgli have a simple message: if someone is uncomfortable around you because they suddenly have to think about equality and the various -isms, don’t make them comfortable. Come into your power. There’s an incredibly powerful choir of voices in this song, including Casey Mecija, Lido Pimienta and Bonjay’s Alanna Stuart, among others. Put this EP on repeat and dance the night away. –MT

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*

Camaromance – Chasing Clouds

Like the clouds that are being sought in the title, Camaromance’s Chasing Clouds is airy, effervescent, and at times feels as though it is on the brink of turning stormy. Montreal’s Martine Groulx has become an expert in compositions that billow with depth and explore love and the big emotions that come with it. Ten songs drift along, named for individuals and sandwiched by the aptly celestial instrumental arrangements “Moon” and “Stars”. This album finds its patterns in acoustic guitar melodies and Groulx’s sweet soprano voice. From the grand orchestral swell of “Marguerite”, to the guitar twang of “Antoine”, and even the heavier electricity of “Martine” (with its delicate French lyrics), Camaromance settles into mood but never dwells in one genre. Each track is as individual as the person behind the title, churning characters into melody and love letters to elation. Call your friends up, meet in a park under the clouds, and press play. Let these tracks inform the shapes your mind creates.  – KR

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Hannah Epperson – Slowdown 

On the opening (and closing) track of Hannah Epperson’s Slowdown, she snarls, “she’s a fucking risk taker.” It’s an apt summary of Epperson herself as she grows her impressive catalogue of neo-classical and pop sounds. Her latest LP continues to follow Amelia and Iris, the same duo from her 2016 debut, Upsweep. The album’s ten tracks are five but Epperson repeats each track so you hear Amelia and Iris’ perspectives. The aforementioned opener “20/20 (Amelia)” bubbles over with intensity and anger while the anger of “20/20 (Iris)” is more subtle, Epperson’s violin whirs the track vertiginously. Another highlight is the two versions of “Tell The Kids It’s Gonna Be Alright”. Amelia’s version is a shadowy track and pulsates softly with a curious synth and muted electronic drum beats. But Iris’ is noticeably brighter. The perspective is different – Epperson replaces “I” with “you” at varying points – and, like Iris’ version of “20/20”, Epperson’s violin propels the song. There’s lots to unpack here and my word count is approaching. As Epperson encourages, slowdown, and take in everything that Epperson, Ameilia, and Iris, have to offer. – LS 

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Kid Mellow – m e l l o w f u l 

The latest full-length from Calgary’s Kid Mellow is as chopped up as its album name. Imagine listening to a full album of instrumental hip-hop and samples, but then having each song individually put into a blender and repurposed. With a few exceptions, you can almost hear the stitching and restitching of sounds: synth lines stutter for several seconds, sometimes they end halfway through a note and mix in with several other sounds all at once. In songs like “Talk to [y o u]” we hear what might happen if a spiritual song was cut into pieces, with certain key sounds and phrases looped. “j u p i t e r ‘ s moon” takes us into space while still maintaining a very glitchy feel. “d i a m o n d s” starts off like a raw diamond but becomes a thing of beauty at the end. “Soul s t a r” sounds the most whole and provides a nice break from the stuttering and glitching. Take some time with this record, and remember that your listening device is not messing up. – MT

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

The Crowleys – Colours Change Their Tone

The Crowleys take their time, luxuriating in the ripples of sounds and the beats that they create — and why wouldn’t you? Colours Change Their Tone is an album that sprawls out, rolling across your floor and climbing up your walls. It’s psychedelic and groovy with no shortage of cheery guitar riffs and ever-changing vocal styles that declare this band is not one for sitting still. Where there are reminders of Dan Bejar’s casual lyricism and delivery on “Pink Rainbows”, there is also a dissociation from humanity in the distorted vocals on “Midnight Blue”. “Pansy Party Extravaganza” forgoes vocals all together, instead finding and perfecting a groove that soars and falls, becomes a beacon of light, then a darkened tunnel of distortion. You have the sense that you know what’s happening, but you can’t pin it down. The jangling, the atmosphere, the drifting and the beat all pull together for “L.A. Sunset”, which finds an addictive pace that lingers on in the instrumental outro. It’s not only the colours that change for The Crowleys: as these restless creators linger in the sounds that they create, they too shift, but the shift feels effortless.  – KR

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

 

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