Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thursday Mailbag:: Fraser, Pale Air Singers, Dog is Blue

Fraser - House on a Hill
myspace || buy CD

This Ontario singer probably hates the reading snippets written about his work. I mean, most are complimentary – and deservedly so – but the ease at which his songs force you to think about other artists must start to grate on the young man.

I usually try to avoid the “sounds-like” trap, but on House on the Hill there are terrific subdued moments that help Fraser sound like Teitur (the opening number Dusklight and Man Playing The Guitar In The Subway would fit perfectly on Poetry & Aeroplanes) and his laid back delivery might remind you of a more rural version of a certain Brushfire Records founder (if he preferred a banjo to a uke), but I think those kind of favorable comparisons are just a way of saying how impressive Fraser’s songs are.

Even with some sketchy production and a couple of stumbles, Fraser’s talent oozes out of this 10-song effort. He splices in a few more uptempo roots/rockers (Let You Down, Rules and the bluesy stomp of Lead Me) to change the pace, but for me he is much more successful the more reserved and emotional he gets. The simple piano chords and picked riff of Love Song and the back porch ready, steel and harmonica laced Fire Elegy let Fraser open up to the listeners and his natural charisma holds you to his words and really shows that House on a Hill could be a great stepping stone for this young London based singer.

Pale Air Singers - S/T
myspace || label

Side projects seem to pop up these days and sadly, most end up leaving the listener wishing the artists had just written more material for their other project. That being said, when two groups/people meld unique styles into a new sound, the results can be pretty impressive. Victoria’s Run Chico Run and the Calgary post-rock outfit The Cape May may seem like strange bed fellows, but their self-titled record works well.

The cinematic, slow moving flair of the Calgary trio adds drama and suspense to a story, fittingly told in reverse and the stomps, energy and herky jerky percussion you’d associate with the Victoria band really heighten the excitement. I’m not sure how many of these songs actually are supposed to be linked, but from the jailbreak that opens the record (Convict Escapes) the band slowly reveals the events that led to this daring climax. The stripped down tale of a killer walking to the gallows (The Last of Jim Prior) is a chilling, just wanting it all to end admission and they do a great job of creating the mood and honest emotions needed to make a song like this work.

The record feels fresh, and I think that was the goal of both bands. Throw together in two quick 10-day sessions, the energy and exploration stays with the tracks. Nothing seems polished or revisited and even though the bands blend together well, you can feel the experimentation as they both try to move around each others strengths. The huge sound scape that forms on the closer, Blind Watchmaker moves like a sonic glacier and probably originated from the minds of The Cape May (case in point? - MP3) but never feels like "their song" thanks to the subtle, frantic current dancing beneath the surface brings.

Dog is Blue - ... Make Ghost Noises

Full disclosure. I like Paul Watson. He's a stand up guy, one of the better bloggers on the Canadian scene (when he updates his site) and he works with herohill from time to time with his day job. So, chances are I'd have a positive spin on anything he was doing, but the fact he's releasing his first record is a pretty big accomplishment. The fact Dog is Blue is an enjoyable collection of quirky folk tales is an even bigger one.

His modern take on folk - balancing the traditional subtle, picked riffs with off-kilter instrumental textures from every noise maker he can find - makes for quirky songs that don't let you settle in complacency. There's no doubt that Paul is a new artist, working his way up from open mics to releasing his own record in less than a year but with the help of some friends (Laura Heaney on backing vocals) he offers up some powerful tracks (Young Enough) and a surprisingly polished sounding self-released debut.

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Posted at 7:12 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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