Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Local spotlight:: T. Nile and AA Sound System

Last night, the Railway was home to some local talent, and those who made a much longer commute. Emma Packer and her band came all the way from Utah to entertain, and the young songstress delivered a surprisingly solid set that gained steam as she sped through her allotted twenty-minutes. The band used some subtle drums, atmospheric keys and electric guitar and some nice harmonies to compliment her crystal clear vocals. The mix was a little off, as you could barely hear some of the instrumentation, but Packer's voice powered through. Fans of early Suzanne Vega might want to check her out.

To be honest, it was the second band that got me off my couch last night. AA Sound System is a unique, roots, (sometimes) electronic backed band from Edmonton, but last night Ayla left the band home and treated the crowd to a solo set. Despite a broken delay peddle, he delivered a slower, but very enjoyable set hitting songs from Laissez-Faire, Lily Plain and a few new ones from the upcoming album. Probably the highlight was The Woods, which he closed the set with, but the intimate setting really made me wish he showed up in Vancouver more often.
MP3:: The Woods

The final act to hit the stage was local folk/roots artist T. Nile. Despite the fact she was up there with a new bass player, a broken banjo and some beaming stage lights, her set was high energy and really reggae infused. The new bass player added a lot of thick lines and Tamara's voice is so strong that she played off the new danceable feel to really make the crowd listen up. She has the type of voice that really stands the test of time, and floats around a room. I would have like to hear a bit more banjo, but that's just me. She plays the last Monday of every month at the Railway, and for the price of a beer you can see a really up and coming folker.

Posted at 5:58 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Jonny Stevens S/T

If you've ever been on the hill before, it won't come as a surprise to you that I think Halifax has a pretty vibrant music scene. It's pretty varied too, as we've got plenty of groups kicking out the indie rock jams, lots of hip hop dudes making moves, and singer-songwriters both male and female putting their sensitive spin on that steez. But what we're lacking is music you might classify as maritime folk/rock with a raw punk edge. Well that is what I thought until I was put onto Jonny Stevens and his self-titled debut. Truthfully, the "maritime folk/rock with a raw punk edge" description comes from Jonny's bio and I wouldn't have even been able to guess what that would sound like until hearing his album. In short, it sounds good.

A native of Lunenberg, Jonny was a member of Halifax punk stalwarts The New Breed from 1997 until the group disbanded in 2005. The band had plenty of success releasing 4 albums and touring Eastern Canada and beyond. But according to his bio, after writing a bunch of songs that "a punk band would never record", Jonny decided to record those songs and embark on a solo career. Citing influences like Billy Bragg, Joe Strummer, and Steve Earle, Jonny comes across as kind of a punk troubadour with an album full of honest, edgy songs that you could still sing along to in a pub. Not sure if that does Jonny or this album justice, but it kind of makes sense to me.

The uptempo, almost Ska-ish I know How It Goes serves as a rollicking opener to the album, which is appropriate as "rollicking" is a word that came to mind repeatedly when I listened to the album. The catchy no-sellout anthem You Can't Take Me is a song just begging for an "Ayy!" to kick things off, and thankfully Jonny obliges. This is perhaps my favorite song on the album, a perfect combination of free-wheeling guitars, drums, and keys mixed with Jonny's socially conscious yet non-preachy lyrics. Excellent stuff. If Ack and I were to select a theme song for our fictional, post-university scheme to jet off to some remote country and sell melons on the beach, we could do worse than the country-tinged, rat-race rejecting Two Weeks Notice.

The aforementioned Two Weeks Notice reminds me of Matt Mays, as do a couple of the slower jams on the album, so it's appropriate that Matt himself makes a guest appearance on Fire From The Sky. Wicked Dreams makes great use of the organ, as many of the tracks on the album do, as Jonny sings about regret and the need to search out a new beginning. I think When You Wake is the perfect song a guy who spent 8 years fronting a punk band would write for his wife. It's very personal and heartfelt without getting weepy. It's quite nice actually.

Starting Over gets things cranked up again and also brings "rollicking" back to mind with a zippy bassline and some more funky organ. Shelters is easily one of the catchiest anti-poverty songs I've heard in some time, and another example of Jonny's ability to put a message in a song without sounding forced. Ruth Minnikin provides some accordion accompaniment, as well as some vocal assistance on the poignant Coming Down.

So do I recommend Jonny Stevens? I certainly do, and I thank Ack for alerting him to my attention from all the way out in Vancity. All Halifax bias aside, this is a very enjoyable album from start to finish. Jonny kind of reminds me of a Maritime Ted Leo with the celtic/punk roots and the focus on social issues in his song writing. Except of course being the Maritime version Jonny is a little mellower than ole Ted, but they also share a blue collar sensibility that comes through in their songwriting. Anyway, enough of my nutty comparisons and waffle, this is a solid album, check it for yourself.

mp3:: Jonny Stevens - You Can't Take Me

mp3:: Jonny Stevens - Starting Over

myspace :: web :: buy it

video:: Starting Over

Posted at 3:40 PM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Hey Paul, lets kick Clarence out of the band...

I wanted to sit down and write a review of the new Sunset Rubdown record - Random Spirit Lover - but I found it really hard to come up with the words. I really dig the record but I don't think this is the kind of record you can jump into after a few listens, especially when the record isn't due out until October. The record, on first pass, has some sonic explosions and some beautiful quirky moments, and I think by the time it's actually released, I'll find the words to describe it properly.

Instead, I started thinking about how the Wolf Parade hiatus has left a very interesting dichotomy between the two members. On one hand, you have Spencer Krug. Here's a young man consumed by writing songs. He's prolific and I think very critical of his work, where as Dan seems ok to write songs when he is motivated by his artistic visions. Krug's more into whimsical, mystical lyrics supplemented by meticulous arrangements, where every note seems to have been thought out and perfected. It's a complete contrast the sparse beats and textures Dan used on the Handsome Furs effort. Dan's album focused on a concept, and he built his vision around it. His pessimistic view of the world is more crucial than the electronic sounds that accompany them.

The relationship between the two is very similar to that between Paul and John. While obviously, Wolf Parade doesn’t add up to the Beatles, I found it fun to try to analyze the similarities. Obviously, Krug falls more into the McCartney realm, using whatever instrument he can find, and his tendency to create magical characters. Random Spirit Lover unveils layer after layer, with new wrinkles fading in and out of the headphones constantly. I've read that early reviews talking about Krug's stream of consciousness, but I don't get that at all. He mixes in light melodies with walls of sound and his trademark vocals (Up on Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days) and tries so many different styles and sounds that you get the distinct impression he actually wants to be great and leave his mark on the music world.

I don't get that from Dan, and that's not a bad thing. His working class, artistic ideas are more in line (and we will ignore the fact his new band features his fiancé) with Lennon's solo style. The most interesting thing is that like Paul and John, they really worked better together. No matter how much you like either artist's solo work, chances are the combination of both styles impresses you more. Hearing Spencer's latest gets me even more excited for the Wolf Parade show here in September (@ Richards on the 7th).
MP3:: Winged/Wicked Things (Daytrotter)

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Between the Covers:: The Beatles vs. Stevie Wonder

It really takes a talented artist, or a conceited one, to tackle a Fab-Four song. Normally, I laugh at the idea of a Beatles cover and dismiss the artist, knowing that it's impossible to stack up, but Stevie Wonder is not your run of the mill artist. Plus, I want to use a Beatles analogy for my review later on today.

MP3:: We Can Work It Out - The Beatles
I mean, this song is a classic. The tambourines and instrumentation are nice, and the harmonizing is fab-oulous. You can't find much wrong with the song, but the same can be said about almost any Beatles song, but I really like the contrast between Lennon's pessimism and Paul's optimism.

MP3:: We Can Work It Out - Stevie Wonder
Ok. Let's just say, Motown era Stevie can brings the noise and or the funk. The smoothed out organ on this song is dy-no-mite. When the backing vocals hit you with the "hey" it is ridiculous and so infectious. You can't help but move and sing along. Throw in the harmonica and you really have to give the nod to Stevie on this one. Probably one of my favorite cover songs of all time.

Winner:: Stevie Wonder
Bonus:: Stevie rippin Superstition on Sesame Street
I love how low key all the musicians are, despite they are attacking one of the most funky tracks of all time. Plus, the drummer kind of looks like a mad skinny ?Love.

UPDATE:: New Weakerthans
Wow... Stereogum has the new single from the upcoming Weakerthans record. I'm so happy.
Link:: Night Windows

Posted at 11:49 AM by ack :: 2 comments

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Old School Mondays:: Black Sheep & Ice Cube

I didn't really have a theme for Old School Monday's this week. Well, my theme was simply to post on time this week, but that isn't really a theme. But then I remembered that during my review of Grand Analog's new album, I said this:

Social Butterfly sounds like Strobelite Honey mixed with Parliament and/or Funkadelic. Nothing more needs to be said after that I'd wager.

I don't know if that even makes sense, but it's enough to drum up an Old School post wouldn't you say? Leading off we'll have Strobelite Honey, from Black Sheep's excellent 1994 debut A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing. Next up we have one of my favorite songs to feature a George Clinton sample, Ice Cube's My Summer Vacation from his slept on second solo outing Death Certificate.

mp3:: Black Sheep - Strobelite Honey
Black Sheep was comprised of MC Dres along with DJ (and occasional MC) Mista Lawnge. They were members of the much-celebrated Native Tongues crew, but because they tended to be much more focused on partying and trolling for slimmies, they billed themselves as the bad boys of the clique. The, ahem, black sheep, if you will. In retrospect, considering former Native Tongue youngster Chi Ali killed a guy, the Black Sheep don't seem all that bad. Anyway, Black Sheep's debut is certainly known for the party pleasing The Choice Is Yours, but it's a rather solid album all the way through, with catchy production and Dres' unique voice and smooth flow making for easy hip hop listening. This jam is a cautionary tale about judging the attractiveness of a new female acquaintance under the obscuring influence of a strobelight. The funky bassline propels the song along, while Dres gives his ugly new friend many humorous reasons why he has to go. My favorite line: "Anyway I'm out, out is what I be, I've got to step with the viscosity", a great example of Dres' quick-witted wordplay and certainly my #1 hip hop usage of the word viscosity. The video for this song is also rather humorous, so check it out after you enjoy this jam.

mp3:: Ice Cube - My Summer Vacation
Here's a little something about me you might not know: I loved Ice Cube. Not the We Be Clubbin', Are We There Yet, fairly harmless Ice Cube of today, but the whitey baiting, curl freshly shaved, No Vaseline Ice Cube you can find on 1991's Death Certificate. I call this album slept-on, which is kind of odd because it easily went platinum, but because of the controversial content of much of the album, it didn't get much radio or video play. Quite frankly, it scared the bejesus out of white people. To people who only know Ice Cube as the star of movies like Friday 7: The Friday After 2 Weeks From Yesterday, Barbershop, and those kids movies, hearing Cube on songs like Givin' Up the Nappy Dug Out, I Wanna Kill Sam, Black Korea, and the NWA evisceration No Vaseline would be rather shocking. The anger and emotion that comes across in these songs, could at times be misguided, but also it's simply undeniable and almost never heard in this day and age. My Summer Vacation flips George Clinton's classic Atomic Dog beat into a tale about LA gangbangers expanding their lucrative drug business to St. Louis, with disastrous results. The beat is catchy as hell, and Ice Cube's story was more than vivid enough to capture my imagination in a truly stereotypical "white kid loves black culture" manner. But enough about me, if you've never heard this, check it out, and check out Death Certificate too if you've never heard it , really a great album.

Posted at 9:17 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Reviews:: Owen Duff A Tunnel, Closing In

UK song writer Owen Duff is an artist that can pleasantly brighten up a Sunday morning, despite the fact he is singing about the scars of love lost and pain. His new EP - A Tunnel, Closing In - is a seven-song DIY release that unlocks the sounds of an artist with the potential to be featured in soundtracks and pop up on mixes for years to come. His songs are arranged well, and he has the ability to craft a hook, he just needs the time and experience to make the jump and form his sound.

Using instrumentation not uncommon to the better work of Badly Drawn Boy, Act of War dances around your room. Starting with only a piano, Duff adds guitar, bass, xylophone and percussion (the subtle tambourine is a nice touch) to compliment his stacatto delivery. The after affects of a fight is not new territory for a solo artist, but the sounds he uses are refreshing. It's the easy standout track of the EP, because it seems so natural. The gentle rhythm floats, unlike some of the slower tracks on the EP - and that really pushes the song along. This song is the type of song that make an artist known.

The EP slows down after the first song, as the piano driven ballad This Song is a marked contrast (where the harmonies and melody make it seem a bit musical theatre), but the EP regains steam with Any Captain Worth His Due. The bass line moves and the piano tempo fits his voice nicely. Duff uses a bit more soulful approach and it's a style he would do well to employ for his future releases. His falsetto is showcased on the track, and he hits the notes so easily, you can't help but want more.

On Turbine, he adds some electronics to play the role of the backing band and swirling piano and strings try to defy the metronome beat. Vocally, he almost hits an Elliott Smith sound, but the instrumentation help him from sounding like he is trying to mimic the success of the fallen idol. To the Bay is really Duff's first sparse arrangement, and it works nicely after the weight of the middle three-songs. It feels more emotional and leads into the piano tinker of Sepulchre, which is my second favorite on the EP. Skeptics again could go the route of musical theatre, but the piano bar feel of the song makes me appreciate how easily Duff opens himself up.

For a self-produced EP, Duff delivers some ambitious songs. Most deliver (especially when he moves from a walk to a jog in pace), a few fall short, but you never question his talent. I think Duff will be a musician we will hear from again... and again. I just hope he has the patience and drive to stick with it.

MP3:: Act of War

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Friday, July 27, 2007

News:: House & Parish

There was a time in my musical life where you couldn't look in my CD changer and not find Promise Ring, Texas is the Reason and Jets to Brazil / Jawbreaker. Well, to be honest, they still find their way onto my IPOD rotation quite frequently.

So here is some great summer news - House & Parish:
Jason Gnewikow (Promise Ring), Brian Malone (The Gloria Record), John Herguth (the Love Scene), and Scott Winegard (Texas is the Reason) have made a new super band from parts of other fantastic bands. House & Parish is like the (former) emo-Voltron.

They are just starting out, but the three songs they have available tease your impatient ear drums. This project has the potential to be unreal. Summer Programme might overtake Two Hours Traffic as my summer theme. It's the type of song I'd throw on a mix CD for Shane, knowing there is no way he couldn't like it, before hitting him with some haunting folk.
MP3:: What Am I Still Waiting For?
MP3:: Summer Programme
MP3:: Standardesque


Posted at 5:14 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Stars In Our Bedroom After the War (revisited)

I've been giving the new Stars record - In Our Bedroom After the War - a lot of listens over the last few weeks. When The Night Starts Here was leaked out, it felt a bit rehashed and I wondered if the Stars were out of fresh ideas. After the first listen of the record I was left a bit underwhelmed. But, the Stars are a band that warrants a grain of salt and over the last few weeks, I've really started enjoying the record, but in a completely different way than I expected.

There are probably a few reasons for my initial thoughts; they have some great songs (Take Me to The Riot and Window Bird for example), but they don't stack up to the best Stars songs that I've listened to hundreds of times. Couple that with the songs that I'm not into (like My Favorite Book, which is a little too adult-contemp for me) and way more songs that I needed to really listen to before they clicked and after a few passes I was a bit let down (especially when people were deeming this a masterpiece within minutes of the leak and I couldn't see how you could arrive at that snap judgment).

Twenty listens later, it has clicked and I see that the Stars are stretching their limits and growing as a band. Personally, I think the reason for this is Torq. He found his stride and developed a much more adventurous vocal range on the last Memphis release (A Little Place in the Wilderness). I can't imagine him breaking out the disco falsetto on The Ghost of Genova Heights or the musical theatre solo on Barricade (with perfect piano / accordion support) without that time alone. These songs show how strong he can be as a front man.

In fact it's that release that made me wonder about this record. I know "it's a different band man", but the songs from his "other" record are more emotional and catchier than the songs on the Stars release, so at times I find that Milan's increased vocal presence to be distracting. I know the Stars rely on the interplay of their voices, and it is still amazing - like on Midnight Coward - but I think my initial sadness was because some of the sounds they come up with are too similar to the tracks on the Memphis record. The breathy interplay on the interesting Personal is nice, but Torq's emotional song for his wife (The Night Watchmen) treads on the same ground and is more powerful.

This isn't a bashing of Milan, as I still really enjoy her voice - she takes the reigns nicely on Window Bird and is as charming as ever with her sugary sweet delivery on Today Will Be Better, I Swear! - the record just took me longer to get into than any other Stars release. There weren't any one listen singles, and looking at it now, that's probably a good thing. It proves the band is maturing and taking more risks. Avoiding the easy trap of reworking synth riffs and trying to find Elevator Love Letter v 2.0 would have been a cop out, and I'm glad the band pushed themselves. Trying to imagine the Stars evolving from that pop ditty into the orchestral title track that closes the album would be hard, but it makes the transition that much more impressive.

MP3:: Take Me to the Riot

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reviews:: Mark Davis Mistakes I Meant to Make

Mark Davis is the type of artist that might struggle his whole life, playing shows for a scattering of devoted fans, but I don't think concerns him much. When a man sits down to write songs with finger picked riffs, I don't think he ever believes he's going to become a household name. In fact, I think Mark writes songs because he needs to get things off his chest before they eat him alive. For Davis, writing songs is a matter of survival.

Davis recently put our a double CD set and each CD represents a different sound and vision. The first - Mistakes I Meant To Make - uses just a guitar, some subtle electronics, occasional horns and a harmonica to accompany his words, and the result is a powerful (albeit bleak) window into a stranger's soul as he battles his own demons. Davis paints a vivid character on this release (though I'd guess parts of these songs are part of him), and that character is a sullen, beaten down man singing about life and how it didn't work out. He lives alone, down on his luck, wondering why she left and if she'll ever come back. The pain is killing him, but you get the suspicion his depression is something he needs to have around.

The songs literally drip with emotion. When he painfully admits that "missing you is just something that I do" on By the Time, his defeat almost runs you over. His lyrics are so real that, much like J Tillman (I really hear the similarities on In On Me, especially when his whistle pierces the silence just like Tillman's Waking Days), he's able to control your ear without any assistance. The clarity of his words and the tone of his voice make you feel like he's pouring out his heart as he pours you both another glass of whiskey. You want to tell him that things will get better, but his pain is more than you've had to deal with. But the way he opens up on this record makes you feel like your ear is the one he needs, and that intimacy is what makes this record so great.

MP3:: By the Time

Davis is playing here in Vancouver on Aug 7th @ the Railway with the Great Outdoors. I'm not sure there is going to be a more honest show all summer.

web site

Posted at 6:32 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: The Benzos Branches

The Benzos could be the next big thing ... on your FM-alternative radio station. They have all the elements of a band people will love, and just enough fresh ideas to make them "the hot band" for people that like to find cool new bands on the radio. I'm not sure if that is a back-handed compliment or not, but that's where I see them ending up.

Their sophomore record - Branches - combines swirling atmospheric guitars, soaring vocals, instrumental bridges, and a trip-hop drum theme; all of which make the songs appealing to a lot of people (but not the over critical fan - read bloggers). It's too hard to put them into one category, so I think this record will go largely unnoticed by the blog world. Another strike against them getting much blog love is that the bands that get thrown into the comparison pot with the Benzos (Aphex Twin, the Doves, Explosion in the Sky) are bands that music nerds love, and those comparisons (while not fair) are going to turn hipsters off.

I have to say, when the Benzos get it right, they sound great. Usually it's on the instrumental bridges that pop up in the songs and let them find a groove, but at other times the record seems a bit too all over the place for me. Shoegaze-y vocals and droning guitars aren't usually going to hit home with a big audience, but the Benzos unique take on the sound make it a bit more accessible. They still have songs that are too long for most listeners - very few songs clock in under 5 minutes - but songs like Phase 2 could be thrown into any afternoon set on your local K-ROX and become the anthem of the summer. The guitars are big and the drums kick, but the song never ventures outside of the comfortable range needed to grab a huge audience.

The songs that have less mainstream appeal are the ones I prefer. I love the minimalist electronics and bouncing bass / drum clap of Teach Me, but I probably like this song because the band settles into a longer instrumental and the vocals are kept to the bare essentials. The breakdown would probably sound cool in a live setting, and the 7-minute song length would be perfect for the end of a set. The spasticated programming of Everybody Hurt quickly finds a groove as well, ready for any lounge you sit in, but the Brit-style vocals beef up the track a bit.

If I had to talk about my dislikes about the release, I'd point you to Hard to Feel and see if you think it is going to be the theme song of Blade X (if Wesley Snipes is still making movies). The drums and vocals set a dark tone, and the chorus explodes into a "made for action sequence sound" and songs like this don't really fit into the potential the band shows. Some of the songs threaten a soaring build, but don't go anywhere (Translucent).

With all the ups and downs of the record, I'd actually like to see the band live because I think if you strip off some of the polish and let them just play, you'd be in for a treat. Their tendency to build towards instrumental grooves is screaming for extended jams at white-bred summer festivals. However, unlike most of those bands, they have the potential to also be a band that the radio loves. Regardless, I'm sure you will be hearing more form these guys soon.
MP3:: Phase 2

web site :: myspace

Posted at 2:41 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Grand Analog - Calligraffitti

Ok, quickly think of the #1 Canadian city that comes to mind when I say the phrase "experimental hip hop". Now take the number of letters in that city's name and multiply it by 57. Now take the resulting number, add 344, and then divide it by 2. Now add 128 to that number and then divide the result by 66. Let me guess, you are left with 8, and what is Canada's 8th most populous city? Winnipeg, which was the city you were thinking of originally, was it not? Well if it wasn't, you are incorrect. This is because Grand Analog is from the city lovingly called Winterpeg.

More accurately, Odario Williams, MC and member of Mood Ruff, is from Winnipeg. He is also the frontman for Grand Analog, a collective that also features Ofield Williams, Darcy Wu Ataman, Damon Mitchell, Arun Chaturvedi, and DJ Catalist. So although he split his time between Winnipeg and Toronto during the making of Grand Analog's debut album, Calligraffitti, his experiences growin' up in the 'Peg helped form the vision that resulted in this album.

And what kind of music does Grand Analog make on Calligraffitti? Here is how the band's bio describes their sound: "The music is a beautiful mess of rap'n'roll dub and soul; a hip hop slop shop of times good and bad." Wow, now there is a description. What does that actually mean you ask? Well their sound is fundamentally hip hop, led by Odario's MCing, but it's a dense, layered sound that combines traditional hip hop beats with a number of other influences. Was that description any clearer? Perhaps not, so let's discuss some songs from the album and see if that helps clear things up.

A funky guitar lick opens up the funky Touch Your Toes, which finds Odario exhorting the masses to get down the Grand Analog way. It also closes with a trumpet solo, which is worthy of some props. The power of one anthem I'll Walk Alone is the first single from the album, and might actually describe the process which found Odario go for self and strike out on his own with Grand Analog. The song is propelled along by a dub-style mix of drums and horns, with some reggae vibes mixed in, and some catchy sing-song vocals. The reggae vibes are cranked up to full for the slow burners, Around This Town and Weekend Love, which are faithful homages to a sound Odario clearly loves.

The fuzzed-out blues guitar that opens Get Live And Go leads into big drum beats and a narrative about the struggles faced by Caribbean immigrants over here in Babylon. Sittin' On Sunday is a floaty, mellow track that features some catchy female vocals on the hook and is about the pain of a lost relationship, or possibly, the pain caused by Odario's realization that he doesn't love hip hop the way he used to. Or perhaps it's about both of those things. Either way, it is perfect listening for a lazy sunday, perhaps when you are sitting. Social Butterfly sounds like Strobelite Honey mixed with Parliment and/or Funkadelic. Nothing more needs to be said after that I'd wager. Mix Tapes: The Slow Ride is kind of hypnotizing with it's jazzy guitar and some dubby echo effects on the drums. It also includes a lyrical hommage to Main Source, which is always worth bonus points.

Guess what time it is now kids. That's right, it's lazy music review comparison time. After all, what's a music review if you can't sum up the sound of the new artist you're reviewing by comparing them to someone everyone already knows (or, if you're real hipsteriffic, someone almost no one knows)? However, the parallels between Grand Analog (specifically Odario), and my friend K-Os are too obvious not to discuss. They are both of West Indian descent, grew up in Canadian towns that aren't really known for their hip hop scenes, and were exposed to all kinds of different music in their formative years. They now both make music rooted in hip hop, but also has elements of reggae, rock, and soul. The music they make also shares another trait, which is the reason for this comparison in the first place - nothing they do sounds forced. Despite the fact that they both weave hip hop in amongst all these different sounds, it always manages to sound organic. This, my friends, is a good thing.

In fact this album is a good thing, but don't take my word for it, check out Grand Analog for yourself. If you're at all into K-Os or even just looking for a hip hop fix with a different flavour, Calligraffitti is worth your time.

mp3:: Grand Analog - Touch Your Toes

mp3:: Grand Analog - I'll Walk Alone

myspace :: label :: buy it

video:: I'll Walk Alone

Posted at 1:00 PM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Reviews:: Octoberman Run From Safety

Sometimes a journey involves a plane, a train and a backpack and sometimes it just requires looking inside yourself. Too cliche? Maybe, but in the context of Marc Morrisette's new record it is very appropriate. Octoberman started after Marc returned from his travels and wanted to write what he saw. His first record - These Trails are Old and New - was full of his observations and only used the required instruments to carry his voice.

Run From Safety is a collection of songs from a man settling into life with a changed perspective. When you step off that long return flight, all you want to do is tell your friends about what you saw. After you tire of telling the same stories, you are forced to adjust to your old surrounding with your new outlook.

The songs use more instrumentation and really help show Morrisette's urgency. Writing these songs forced him to look inside himself and reevaluate everything he knew - musically and personally. "I need some inspiration in my life", and that desire to be more than just "getting by" has helped him push his song writing forward. The first track - By the Wayside - uses horns, swirling keyboards and a bouncing bass line instead of the gentle strums and harmonicas you've come to expect from Marc. The 5-minute song explodes into a jangly pop song for the last minute, and you realize that you are going to have to throw all of your Octoberman expectations away for this record.

It's not that Marc has abandoned his song writing sensibilities (Run from Safety is a textbook Neil Young influenced track and the acoustic and lap steel the band uses are as comfortable as an old sweater), it's that he expanded on them, adding horns and keyboards to finish his thoughts. The songs have a crunch (Once in a Blue) or sugary-pop coating (Shit Just Falls Apart) that he draws from his Kids These Days experiences. Unlike his last record, he's not forcing you to listen to his tales.

The songs are busier, catchier and the ebbs and flow let you simply nod along happily. On Elbow Room, he adds a choral swoon and a rapid fire drum line to transform the song from a coffee shop background theme. Breath of Sunshine uses mood setting strings to compliment his double-tracked vocals. Cisco Kid unveils the most shocking change. The electric noodles, horns, fuzzy bass and staccato percussion creates a Wild West-style romp that drives itself into you brain.

I guess the most striking thing about all these changes Marc uses on this record is that he won't alienate a single fan. As the hushed tones and gentle strums of Chasing Ambulance fades out to close the record, you've realize you've taken another intimate journey with Octoberman, but this time you didn't have to leave Vancouver.
MP3:: By the Wayside
Video:: Cisco Kid (Acoustic)

web site :: label :: myspace

Posted at 4:58 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Snow Globe ... something old, something older?

Last year, Snow Globe got the band back together. Well sort of. They pulled a KISS and started the ambitious project of recording four solo records with the same cast of players. The first - Brad Postlethwaite's Oxytocin - was a solid release, despite the lack of fan fare. I think I took the easy way out with my description: "Oxytocin (composed by the band's co-songwriter Brad Postlethwaite) - sounds like is a classic E6-style experience. You know, that fantastic, dreamy pop music you can't get enough of? As I always say, dropping E6 into a discussion is pointless. You will just enjoy the music, or you won't. I am one of the ones that does", but I liked what I heard.

Well, the record got enough people paying attention to Snow Globe to warrant another pressing of the 2004 release - Doing the Distance. The band and the record have a back story that sums up how bands get lost in the shuffle. For a great recap, you should read this piece by Scenestars from back in the day.

It's not easy to review a record from so long ago that you've never heard before. I mean, you can try to judge it now, or try to think of how you would have been affected in 2004. On a whole, the record holds up well today. The acoustic guitars and horns sound great, and the duality of Brad and Tim's writing makes for an interesting, if slightly disjointed listen. It sound more like a collection of songs and musical interlude, but the strength of the song writing is obvious.

It's got all the tinges of Neutral Milk Hotel, but I'm not sure if those comparisons were as easy to make in 2004. Less people expressed love for the band back then, so it wouldn't have been as easy to type cast in '04. Plus, Tim's leanings to classic rock n roll really add a new dimension. In the middle of Ms. June, he barges forward with a face melting, break down solo that doesn't fit at all, but totally works to counteract the delicate catchiness of the horn play.

The moment that grabbed me right off the bat was the electric guitar riff on Master Of Forgotten Works. It could be directly added into a Ratatat set and no one would blink an eye. When I first heard Ratatat's record, I was pretty into it, so I can't imagine how I would have reacted to that little riff, especially when the band adds horns and vocals to the equation.

The record - which at 16 tracks - probably runs a little long and could have been trimmed (songs like the 6-minute Baby left me a bit flat), but that's ok. Most of the songs are so short and so diverse that even if you don't like a track, they jump quickly into another style. It's hard to imagine a band going from crunched danceable guitars into a swirling piano pop song (Changes), but Snow Globe manages to do it. The band beefs up the sound and picks up the pace in the middle of the record, and it's the strongest portion of the songs.

The Big Machine is a quirky pop song that uses piano, computer effects and horns nicely to talk about a machine that swallows a human's soul being in 5 days. It's these type of ideas that help you understand why Snow Globe themselves was swallowed up by the machine of Indie rock. Obviously, they had (still have to be fair) the talent to be a big band, but ambition, inflated ideas and the pitfalls of Indy music back in the day left this band out in the cold so to speak.
MP3:: Master of Forgotten Works
MP3:: Changes

The band also released a collection of songs from even farther back in the day on St. Ives records (offshoot of JagJaguwar and Secretly Canadian). Me and You is a collection of 29 songs (I know, I know) that is a tough one to put a handle on. The first 14 songs, totaling about 17-minutes is intended to be one song and is mostly a collection of 4 and 8-track recordings. It's lo-fi and a bit bizarre, but you can see the promise the band displayed even back in 2001. The songs are like a musical time machine, as some are over 8 years old. It's an adventure to say the least - but one worth taking.
MP3:: People Come, People Go

myspace :: label

Posted at 12:01 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

News:: Around the blogs

Just some things you might be interested in:

New Beat Radio track - MP3:: What I Love the Most
Editor note - it's actually Phil on banjo this time around. Sorry Phil!
The banjo and the mix with the electronic textures sounds great.

New Tegan and Sara video - Back in Your Head (via AOL Spinner)
Looking forward to seeing the girls play in Vancouver next month.

New Dreadful Yawns - Don't Know What I've Been On (via I Rock Cleveland)
The Yawns jump from Byrds to Velvet Underground-ish sounds. I'm in. Also in, Troy Polamalu. Out? Brady Quinn so far. As much as I love the blog, I hate the Browns. Go Steelers.

Win a copy of Two Hours Traffic - Little Jabs @ I Heart Music
It's rare that Shane and I agree on music that isn't Hall & Oates or 86-93 rap related, but we are both big fans of this record. Getting your grubby mitts on it free of charge would be wise.

Posted at 5:06 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Richard Swift Dressed Up for the Letdown

Not much can be said about the new Wilco record that hasn't been said. They are playing the Malkin Bowl on August 20th, which should really help bring the new record to life, but the opening act is a man that should be mentioned. Richard Swift is a song writer, but never has that term been quite so limiting. He has elements of Rufus Wainright in his style, but he also moves away from the troubadour style with some more straight ahead pop wonders and bedroom electronic drum machine ditties. His latest release - Dressed up for the Letdown - is refreshing, challenging, accessible and so much more.

The contradiction of the title really sets the tone for Swift's songs. This record was my first introduction to Swift, and within a few listens I decided his back catalog would be needed on my shelves. He's an interesting man, obviously disappointed with the music industry and riddled with insecurity - as he jumps into the role of a label guy telling him his songs are too sad, he's too fat and he just isn't marketable on Artist & Repertoire - but he uses piano and horns to create a contradictory lush arrangement and doesn't let doubts dominate the theme of the record.

Instead, he writes song that use brass, piano, drums, and electronics - often in the same song to create a whimsical, yet oddly melancholic state. There is a Beatles-ish stomp to The Songs Of National Freedom which moves nicely into the strummed goodness of Most of What I Know. You'd think hearing someone repeat, "your love will keep my heart alive" would come off as cheesy, but the horns and galloping percussion craft the perfect coating for his sugary centre.

He attacks the keys nicely on PS, It All Falls Down and his band backs his double tracked (and vocoder mixed) vocals nicely, but for every built up arrangement, Swift has the security to revert to a sparse piano riff and let his voice carry the load (like the beautiful, remorse filled Ballad of You Know Who or the bedroom rock symphony, Building of America). Sure he adds well placed strings and harmonies, but the track is really just Swift opening himself up to the listeners and letting his insecurities and sympathetic, romantic persona shine through. He's able to recreate that summer drive AM radio feel on Million Dollar Baby, but instead of crooning about Afternoon Delight or Horse's With No Name, Swift's lyrics are a bit more poignant as he laments that he wishes he was dead most of the time, but he doesn't really mean it. The closing track 9oddly enough called the Opening Band) invokes a little Jarvis Cocker swagger to the slow strummed outro.

The record is easy to appreciate on a lot of levels. Swift writes pop melodies that float effortlessly into your headphones and let you zone out happily, but he also writes lyrics that make you want to keep listening and make this record a grower. Needless to say, I'm very excited to see him warm the crowd for Wilco.
MP3:: Most of What I Know

web site :: myspace :: more mp3s

Posted at 1:26 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Old School Mondays:: LL Cool J & Awesome Dre & The Hardcore Committee

Good readers of the hill, I have to ask your forgiveness as I realize many of you logged on to the hill yesterday expecting your usual dose of Old Schooly (D) goodness, and got nada instead. Well maybe that was just Ack, but still, I feel bad about missing yesterday so I wanted to make sure I had it up bright and early for your perusal this morning. I did have the songs ready to go, but a crazy work day Monday and my epic review of Joel Plaskett's Dartmouth show put the Chris Bosh on Old School Mondays actually getting up on, well, you know, Monday.

So here we are on Tuesday with a couple old school gems to enjoy. I didn't really have much of a theme going, but my post last week on Quake's attempt to take out all of Canada had me thinking about diss tracks, and then I came across a copy of Awesome Dre & The Hardcore Committee's debut You Can't Hold Me Back. I already had a copy of this album, but for some reason it didn't have the Kool Moe Dee diss track, I Don't Like You which I'd always found rather hilarious. Well this new copy did, so I knew I had to post that song. Now, we have nothing but respect for Moe Dee here at the hill (we did have Kool Moe Dee Week after all), but in the Quake post I mentioned that a lesser-known MC taking shots at an established MC doesn't usually work, and this song is a perfect example of that. I mean it came out in 89, when people still loved diss records and would respond to anyone. But even in that climate, Awesome Dre's attempt to beef with Moe Dee fell on deaf ears and the awesome one never blew up.

Whenever I think of Moe Dee and diss records, I have to think of LL's To The Break Of Dawn where LL puts the boots to not only Moe Dee, but Hammer and Ice-T as well. Certainly the Men's Fitness LL of today is kind of soft where music is concerned, but he was once a pretty rugged MC. I'm guessing today's rap kids don't really know, but LL was once a pretty bad man on the mic and a dude many people wouldn't step too. Check out this track for yourself if you don't believe me.

mp3:: Awesome Dre & The Hardcore Committee - I Don't Like You
Awesome Dre hails from Detroit, and back in the day I did kind of think he was awesome. I only had a taped copy of this album, but I always liked it. Keeping with Detroit's rep, and his committee's name, Awesome Dre was indeed hardcore, as the cover of his album with him holding guns to the heads of two unfortunately track-suited dudes clearly proves. I Don't Like You isn't the best song on the album, I preferred On The Rampage or Frankly Speaking, but I always remembered it due to it's ingenious chorus. Fist we hear Moe Dee's "How ya like..." followed by Dre's rebuttal "I don't like you", "I never liked you", and finally "I never will like you, just like a football, that's how I will spike you!". Damn, if meant literally, that would hurt. It's clear Dre didn't approve of Moe Dee's rapping skills, but his crazy wrap around shades and penchant for leather pants takes the brunt of his Awesome attack: "You look like a welder, naw Darth Vader, your whole hookup look like a masquerader" and "Kool Moe She, oops, I meant Dee, I really couldn't tell with those tight leather pants you see". Certainly hindsight is 20/20, but I have to think Moe Dee opened himself up to some of these shots by insisting on wearing all the leather. Dre also scoffs at Moe Dee's antiquated notion of solving battles with a fistfight, insisting that even in 1989 that everyone is packing heat, and that fact makes curbside bodyslams a thing of the past. It's too bad Moe Dee didn't respond to this, I would've liked to hear him try and put a dent in Dre's armour of awesomeness. Oh well, enjoy it anyway.

mp3:: LL Cool J - To The Break Of Dawn
Now this is how you write a diss track. Appearing on everyone's favorite LL album, Mama Said Knock You Out, LL lays the smackdown on Moe Dee, Hammer, and Ice-T over Marley's catchy combo of guitar licks and horns. LL's beef with Moe Dee has been well documented, but why he also decided to set his sights on Hammer and Ice-T is unknown to me. It matters little though, as it makes for an excellent song. Predictably, LL also takes a shot at Moe Dee's "Star Trek shades" but also gets a little personal with "you can't handle the whole weight, skin needs lotion, teeth need Colgate", and "get rid of that yuckmouth smile, cause brother, you ain't got no style". I mean sure, the yuckmouth thing isn't good, but no style, man, that would hit a leather enthusiast like Moe Dee where it hurts. LL picks on Hammer for his dancing and claims he'll light his curl on fire, but his end line is what makes the verse a knockout in my book: "when I see you I'm a give you a slap, that's right a little kick for that crap, cause my old gym teacher ain't suppose to rap". Not sure why, but that gym teacher bit kills me every time, I love that line. Ice-T isn't spared, as LL says he'll cut Ice's PT before pleasuring himself in the John to Ice's Power album cover that featured Ice's girlfriend at the time, Darlene Ortiz. LL also mentions both Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple which is impressive and he also calls Ice-T "a little hip hop raccoon". Great stuff all around, and that's before he closes by saying he's sipping on some Bartles & James Premium Peach flavoured wine cooler. I mean, the set of brass ones it takes to rip 3 really well known MC's and then sign off by talking about the peach wine cooler you're sipping is just tremendous. I can't recommend this song enough.

Posted at 7:38 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Reviews:: The Bowerbirds Hymms for a Dark Horse

I can't imagine it is easy to be saddled with the expectations of being referred to as John Darnielle's new favorite band ("my favorite new band in forever."), but the PR people supporting the Bowerbirds is going to let them try. Despite the lofty praise, I'd say the new LP - Hymns for a Dark Horse - lives up to hype. It's a complex, but oddly familiar listen.

The trio - frontman and guitarist Phil, artist, harmonizer and accordion player Beth, and multi-instrumentalist and part-time vocalist Mark - have created a melodic folk record that seems to be growing on me like a well tended garden. I know that's an easy analogy to make, especially considering the eco-friendly vision the band exists in, but it's remarkably accurate.

Like most bloggers, I was introduced to the band with the email with John's thoughts and the fantastic MP3, The Dark Horse. It was such a great song that I posted it without hearing any other track (something we rarely do here on the Hill). The harmonies and violin drew me in and I was hooked. I think I was waiting to get a review copy of the record, because I forgot to revisit the record until I saw it at the local record shop.

I picked up the record this past week, and its been a really interesting listen. Lately, I've been stepping away from the psychedelic, freak-folk that is conjured with the name Devendra. While at times, the Bowerbirds do sound like the bearded wonder (although to me Phil sounds more like former tour mate Ivan from the Rosebuds), they create a different sort of melody.

Using nylon strings and an interesting collection of percussive stomps, this record is as soothing as it is haunting. Beth's accordion swirls throughout the tracks, but the trio tosses in harmonies (Bur Oak is simply beautiful) and uses such creative chimes that you get swept up in the melodies. Unlike a lot of other records in this genre, the record is easy to digest. You don't need countless listens to embrace it, but you still unearth something new with each listen.

Obviously, the traditional folk sounds are present - The Marbled Godwit - showcases the vocal meandering, simple acoustic picked riffs and violin required to be successful in the genre - but the majority of the record is more catchy. The rage of In Our Talons is the track that jumps out at you the quickest, but it is the bass drum driven Slow Down let's the trio show off their song writing skills. The accordion strengthens the track, but never distracts from the lyrics or the persistent kick of the drum. If you have any doubts about this band, jump to Olive Hearts and listen to the trio harmonize over the instrumentation and prepare to be hooked. Their sound is a fresh take on a style I was drifting away from and its actually made me revisit a few records I'd long since shelved.
MP3:: Olive Hearts
MP3:: In Our Talons

web site :: myspace :: label

Posted at 5:48 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Joel Plaskett Emergency Live at Alderney Landing

Joel & the legendary Dave BoydAs I mentioned Friday, P and I checked out the Joel Plaskett Emergency show on Friday night as part of her birthday celebrations. It's the only show Joel & Co are playing in Halifax this summer, and it just so happened to fall on P's birthday, so it seemed like a good fit. The show took place at Alderney Landing on the Dartmouth waterfront, and also featured Jenn Grant and Peter Elkas. I'd never been to Alderney Landing before, but it's a pretty cool spot right on the waterfront with a very cool view. Well the view would've been awesome if the fog didn't make it seem as if the world ended 30 feet to the right of the stage, but it didn't rain, so I won't complain.

The doors opened at 8PM, and Jenn Grant came on stage at about 20 after, so the many early arrivals didn't have to wait long for the proceedings to begin. Petra and I had ventured over to the special fenced off booze section and I had a delicious Molson Canadian (note: it was not delicious) while P declined my gentlemanly offer to buy her a Smirnoff Ice and had to go without as, unbelievably, not one of the options written on the side of the cardboard box being used as a cash register was wine.

So I drank my beer as Jenn opened up with a new song she'd written for her dog called "Heart Of Sticks". It was cute, but not sure if this one will make her next album. Jenn was wearing a blue & white sundress, which was a pretty brave choice considering how windy and foggy it was. But the weather didn't seem to bother her and once her band the Night Painters joined her, the set picked up nicely. Not sure if Jenn had played a big outdoor venue like that before, and her stage banter came off a little shy, but she didn't hold back in her performance as she played most of the songs on Orchestra For The Moon. Unique New York was a highlight for me and her finale of Dreamer was really quite good to see live.

I thought it was a good showing for Jenn and she genuinely seemed excited to be part of the show, and the crowd picked up on that I thought. The majority were still in the fenced off beer & Smirnoff Ice section, but they were still very appreciative.

That appreciation continued for Peter Elkas, who was up next with a tight set from his latest album Wall Of Fire. Like Joel, Peter's been touring since he was a teenager, so he's at ease up on stage, even with a large, anxious crowd like the one that had assembled by the time he came on. Opening with the wistful Sweet Nancy, the songs from Peter's latest album sounded great live with a big assist from the Elkas band (or the Elkaholics if you prefer, and I do). Jeff Heisholt is listed as the man on the Keys on Pete's myspace, so I'll assume that's who was manning them Friday night, and he deserves some props for ripping it up. Fall Apart Again sounded great, which isn't surprising as it's a great song. I also enjoyed Wall Of Fire, which was a little more uptempo and jamming done live, and Everybody Works off Pete's previous album Party Of One got the crowd moving. Peter wrapped up with a raucous version of Something Beaming which he added some crowd participation to and that got folks hyped up for the main event.

The main event of course being similar to Saturday Night's Main Event, with Joel Plaskett playing the role of the Hulkster and peeling off his sweater vest instead of tearing off a yellow wife-beater when it was time to crank it up a notch. Joel came on stage with a smile and almost seemed as happy to see his hometown fans as they were to see him. Perhaps because of this, the energy from Joel and his Emergency mates, Dave Marsh on Drums and Chris Pennell on Bass, was there right from the start as they launched into an array of catchy songs from Ashtray Rock. Pete Elkas joined Joel and the band on stage for pretty much the entire set playing the keys, harmonica, and even some guitar. I believe Peter has played with Joel a few times before, so he seemed to know the songs pretty well. About halfway through the 3rd song, Gordie Johnson appeared on stage fresh from Texas in a 10 gallon, matching black western shirt and some spiffy cowboy boots. I don't think Gordie knows Joel's catalogue all that well, but he was very game and played for almost their entire set, filling in on the Tambourine or maracas when necessary.

All in all I'd have to say it was the kind of "hometown" show you'd expect from someone like Joel who, by all accounts, is proud to still call Halifax home. I do believe he played every single song from Ashtray Rock, even some like Chinatown, which he said he hadn't really played live before. One of the highlights for me of the Ashtray Rock stuff was Snowed In/Cruisin' which was a fist pumping blast to hear from our position almost dead centre in front of the stage. Of course Drunk Teenagers was very good and they even played Instrumental and had Joel's wife Rebbeca come to the side of the stage and recite the spoken word bit she does on the album while Joel looked on proudly.

Joel's father also joined him onstage for a couple acoustic songs from Joel's solo album La De Da. They did a stripped down version of Happen Now, which is my favorite from that album so I enjoyed it plenty, and of course they did P's fave, the Halifax ode Love This Town, which P and everyone else enjoyed tremendously. You can still suck it Kelowna!

Here's a little tip, if you'd like to see a posse of people from Halifax lose their collective wigs, play them Nowhere with you It seems we like that song here. Favorites from Down At The Khyber and Truthfully Truthfully were also played with enthusiasm by Joel and the band with Joel even paying tribute to the late Bob Switzer of Taz Records fame during a psychedelic rock out in the middle of Maybe We Should Just go Home. Gordie Johnson got to take the lead and play a little Hot For Teacher in the middle of Teacher Teacher, which seemed like an appropriate time for it. The first encore found Joel switching to the drum kit as Dave Marsh took over the geetar and they played a rousing version of Fashionable People. Joel even played the little acoustic outro from Ashtray Rock where he mentions Dave Boyds' subterranean swimming pool election plans and changed the lyrics to mention that he'd recently heard from Dave. Haven't we all though?

In fact Dave was in attendance Friday night and was kind enough to send the hill the lovely pic of him and Joel you see at the top of this review. Joel played for pretty much 2 hours, and although we had all been standing on concrete in the pea soup Dartmouth fog, I don't very many people left before the show was done. The crowd was a nutty mix of high school kids, younger kids with their parents, college kids, weird drunk dudes, old people who brought their own chairs, and overgrown kids like P and I who went to school with Joel. One thing is certain a good time was had by all, especially by the semi-annoying Canada' Next Top Model wannabee in the glitter hat who was rocking out in front of us. Big ups for knowing the words to every song, glitter hat girl, but perhaps try doing the rockin' out fist pump/sexy dance once every couple songs. Anyway, I digress, kudos to Joel & Co for putting on a great show.

stream:: Jenn Grant - Dreamer
mp3:: Peter Elkas - Fall Apart Again
mp3:: Joel Plaskett Emergency - Fasionable People
mp3:: Joel Plaskett Emergency - Drunk Teenagers

Posted at 11:17 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Between the covers:: The Shins vs. Sarah Harmer

Gone for Good. This song ties in to my general disappointment about the David Beckham explosion hitting the US right now. I think the whole situation is sad. I mean, he's a once great player whose skills have faded and his public exposure has increased. Now he's the faceplate for a league struggling to gain credibility. Instead, the league is now catering to b-list celebs like Tara Reid and the other people you read about in the gossip rags. It's chic to care about the soccer, or at least Posh and Becks. It's cool to care about those two right now, but how long will that last? I understand the business sense of the move, but I'd rather see the cash spent on luring in talent that can still do more than hit a set-piece.

We have enough celebrity athletes that are filmed constantly, and distract from the sport itself. We see athletes in commercials and billboards, and I'm one of those people that thinks no athlete is bigger than the game. The Beckham-cam and the hype over the "will he / won't he" was tiresome. No one cared about the game, as one of the biggest cheers was when he stood up to warm up.

I'm not a once-every-four years type fan. I enjoy watching soccer and follow a few leagues (mostly the German and the Premiership). I get so frustrated when sports columnists like Bill Simmons talk up the game for a minute during the World Cup (and say they love it), and then the minute the golden ball is lifted, they forget about it. That being said, the stadium was full and lots of people watched so the move paid off I guess. It just makes me never want to watch the Galaxy ever again.

Anyway, the songs::
MP3:: Gone For Good - The Shins
For the Shins, Chutes Too Narrow was the record that gained them a ton of fans, but also introduced the beginning of the "man... the Shins used to be so good" movement. I still think they are a fantastic band, and I really like this song, especially the country tinges (of the subtle slide guitar) that flow throughout the acoustic number.

Here's a nice radio version of James performing the song solo as well.
MP3:: Gone For Good (Mercer solo)

MP3:: Gone For Good - Sarah Harmer
Sarah Harmer is a Canadian super darling. Her voice is amazing, but the thing you really should take from her records is the attention to detail she puts into her lyrics. She writes songs that draw you into the smallest of detail like a talented author, but never sacrifices the melody.

This live version of the song is from the amazing Weakerthans / Sarah Harmer concert where they also traded covers of each other's songs. It still has the country swagger and the dual vocals, but the recorder-ish sounds and the female harmonies help this song float along. Her falsetto is so nice, you can't help yourself from enjoying the song.

Overall - still have to give it to the Shins.

Posted at 10:59 AM by ack :: 4 comments

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Reviews:: Make Things Make You

Make Things Make You wrote us an email, and on first glance I'd have guessed Saint Pyotr was bat-shit crazy. I mean, he opens the email with a passage from Crime and Punishment and assumed he was going to ask me to help him get his money out of an African bank. Now, I don't know ka-ra-te, but I know ca-ra-zy (thanks to James Brown), so I had to check it out.

His latest EP - Hidden Hill - is a collection of samples, textures, blips, bleeps, bird sounds, spoken word, sing/spoke lyrics, choral singing, and instruments. Despite all this, I found the EP pretty easy to digest and enjoyable. Sunshine, the first real song (after the opening 1-minute track, it'll grow under your feet and around your legs) combines bird noises, samples, and a simple sequencing/drum machine mix but over the course of the 6+ minutes he throws in the opening spiel you get when you board a plane. As I said, he may or may not be crazy, but he's definitely not boring and he has a sense of melody you wouldn't expect.

Architecture uses a bit more bass and is more atmospheric in nature, using swirling sounds and static with a difficult to hear spoken verse. Despite the fact it is barely audible, the sound is really nice and keeps you invested. Amazing Trees of the World is a symphony of sound, and may or not be playing some of the sounds backwards. It's really hard to tell, but when it all comes together it sounds great. The last song, everything ok fuck is a 13-minute collection of textures, dead air, transitions and old sampler effects that pretty well sums up this bizarre Shreveport musician.

He easily makes out list of "best free EPs from a son of a communist who refers to himself as a mysterious waif who likes to disappear for days at a time." Think of him as Album Leaf gone off his meds, and you are almost there.

The whole EP is available for free, as long as you tell someone about it - so, keeping up my end of the cyber deal, check it out.
MP3:: Sunshine
MP3:: Architecture

web site :: myspace

Posted at 2:39 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

News:: Tokyo Police Club sign to Saddle Creek

According to Pitchfork::
"Tokyo Police Club will now bring their monkeyshines to the masses via Nebraska powerhouse Saddle Creek."

Should be a good thing and will get this Canadian band the attention they deserve. I had kind of fallen of the Omaha label, but this, Maria Taylor and Georgie James make are releases that really excite me.

Here's a couple newbies from TPC:
Video:: Your English is Good
MP3:: Your English is Good (live on MOKB Radio)
MP3:: Be Good

web site :: label

Posted at 3:21 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Reviews:: AA Sound System Laissez-Faire

I guess posting show details for a band I never reviewed is sketch-tastic, so I am rectifying that with a look at AA Sound System's latest release, Laissez-Faire. Like real estate, this band can best be described by the adage, "location, location, location." Ayla Brook and Marek have been friends for 15 years (not to downplay Lane Arndt's contributions to the record), and the song writing reflects not only that kinship, but where they grew up.

Rural towns in Canada are often described as desolate and alienating, but people neglect the camaraderie that results from small town living. Both sides of the equation play a big part in this release. The arrangements are sparse and the melodies tend to explore the country-friendly pop sounds you'd expect from a band that formed in Yellowknife (and draws inspiration from the prairies), but instead of Crazyhorse, whirling guitars and shaking drum kits, Ayla writes the type of songs you can imagine taking shape around a kitchen table with a few friends.

I Don't Get You At All, like Ayla sings on the first line, "started out, so simply." It’s a guitar, some drums and harmonies that floats along like a great AM radio song you'd stumble upon on a drive to nowhere. It's almost comforting and familiar. While this song is enjoyable, it’s the title track where you start to see the difference between AA Sound System and a typical "roots" outfit. The electro back beat forms the structure of the song and it's similar to the style being embraced by a lot of indie acts.

In reality, the majority of the songs rest somewhere between these two styles. Who'd of Thought is another acoustic trip down memory lane, masking the nostalgia with a light melody. The pop continues on the piano-driven hook of Raw Joy. The guitars, hand claps, feedback, and ooohs and aaahs make you think about the natural progression this song must have undergone. You can picture Ayla tinkering with the riff sitting alone on a couch, before playing it for a few friends and hearing the harmonies escape as they learn the tune. The country picked melody of Harmony is a close your eyes sing-along with only the subtlest piano tonk added in the distance. Almost every song seems to have undergone an organic growth or use a simple, natural sound. On Vermillion, the band changes pace again and the computer affects and minimal drumming paint a picture of loneliness. The first seven songs come and go so quickly you barely have time to settle in and I simply left the disc on repeat for most of the afternoon.

It's the last two songs of this record where the band really branches out. Sooner than Later is Lane's song, where he takes lead vocals and song writer credit. It's much more atmospheric, using swirling programming behind the drums, guitars and repeated chorus. The electro-flourishes sound really nice and the tempo shifts nicely throughout the five minutes. The result is a song that you might throw on at the end of the night or as you drive home and just want to zone out with your own thoughts.

Date Palm is as desolate and depressing as you can get on a "pop" record. Ayla uses only a few guitar notes as he sings painfully about watering her plants, waiting for the phone to ring. He's praying for her to come back, even though he knows why she left. It's the type of emotion you expect from Kinsella on an Owen release, but over the course of the 9-minute epic the vocals disappear, Marek adds some gentle cymbal washes and Ayla creates a tapestry of white noise, static pulses and programmed beats. It's a perfect closer to the record.

It's going to be very interesting how they play out live.
MP3:: Raw Joy

Posted at 5:51 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Interviews:: Bottle Up & Go

We recently stumbled on the EP from the Brooklyn-based two piece, Bottle Up & Go. Slide blues with a serious dose of crashing drums - well, just read the review here.

HH: Herohill
K: Keenan Mitchell (vocals, guitar)
F: Fareed Sajan (drums)

HH:: First off, let's start with an easy question. Not many people are quick to start a two-piece heavy slide blues band. How did you guys get started, and did you ever think about adding another instrument/member to the sound?
K:: We met the first day of school at Wesleyan, because we lived on the same hall. I’d been listening to a lot of blues and playing slide on my own, and I saw he had a drum set, but we didn’t know anyone who played bass yet. Everyone is always telling us to add a bass, but that’s sort of contrary to the whole idea of our sound, and the tradition behind it. We have been slowly working Lucas into more and more of our songs on saxophone, and that has really helped expand our sound. It started with just a few solos, but at this point he is pretty much the third member of our band. He gets drink tickets just like the rest of us now. You can also find a little violin in there on our EP, which we are thinking about using more of as well.

F:: Well, Bottle Up & Go was essentially first conceived as a friendship. Keenan and I both attend Wesleyan University, and lived on the same hall in the West Co Dorm, a dorm famous for its drug use and artistic inclinations. As my parents left after helping me move in and such, Keenan came by saw the instruments in my room and asked if I would like to jam later, and then asked me to join him in smoking weed he had just scored in town. Bottle Up & Go is Keenan and I, so it began in that moment.

Later we played and experienced some sort of raw freedom, an honesty I could express in my drum playing that I had not really found in other musical projects. So somewhere in the back of my mind it was something I was silently excited about, only later, about a semester later in 2006, we played our first show, a 15 minute slot, last band to play Wesleyan's Awesome Fest, and we knew that Bottle Up & Go was something to continue on doing after that show.

HH:: You guys seem really comfortable using the Net to get your music out. How do you feel about blogs/myspace and the way music is digested by fans? Side note - did you know when you goggle your band name the first result is another blues band from Denmark or something?
K:: I think the whole blogs/myspace thing is great, because without that we would just be handing out demos at shows. This way people anywhere can check us out for free while they’re eating cereal in the morning, even if they have never seen us. It’s also fun to see everyday how many people listened to us. Who are those people?

As for the goddamn skiffle band from Denmark, your days are fucking numbered, boys. Next time a tour takes us through Denmark we are going to find them and kill them.

F:: The internet I feel is a catalyst for communication, obviously. If a band puts up music on myspace, it only supplements what is actually there in non-virtual existence, yet at the same time creating this surface existence. Its kind of like a face, by that it expresses itself through updates, artwork, or w/e.

But mainly I just mean that the mind is not revealed, or the content, or in non metaphorical terms, the flesh of the band is not revealed... Only pictures of the band are. This sometimes creates a facade, but it is a facade that otherwise is always created because of judgment. So I do not think inherently that Internet is bad because it does not represent the band to its actual truth, as nothing really will unless you speak to them or see a band live like the good old days.

Instead the internet is a catalyst, or an instigator to perhaps create attraction for people that otherwise would not come, to actually come out to our shows and experience blues music they might otherwise never cross paths with. Internet can really only be good if it is used to promote what is already there, and I think that is how we strive to exercise its possibilities and potential powers.

Once we had our EP up, people started to respond, and somehow we have been asked to play shows through myspace, you guys at herohill found us, etc. Myspace has only sped things up for us, as blogs have done as well. As for the band in Denmark, it will be a race. Fuck the Internet, lets have a duel.

HH:: Your sound isn't really a common one. What's the crowd reaction been like when you guys open up for a band?
K:: It really depends on the band that we are opening for. If kids are there for a punk show they’ll mosh to it, but if it’s for a danceypants band people will shake their butt a little to it. When we play shows at the rest home, though, it is almost strictly waltzing. Go figure.

F:: Personally I just like to see specific reactions of people's faces to certain parts of the song. According to certain dynamics, I like to see if the crowd can feel the sadness of the chord progressions, or whether they are stones and are indifferent to someone bleeding on stage. I question, when in the depths of our set, once the crowd is familiar with our sound, if who we are opening for will influence their decision about our band.

But it is true, as Keenan said, it usually does depend on what genre the headlining band falls into, which necessarily will affect how the crowd will move their bodies according to what freedom they allow themselves depending on the genre. We have been told that we fit into all sort of different genres, like 60's nostalgic, or garage blues, holler blues (laughs), or I don't know.

HH:: What bands or sounds influence your song writing?
K:: We are inspired by real old blues, like Leadbelly, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Willie Johnson, anybody blind, when it comes down to it.

All of those guys who are just about a man and his guitar with a chain gang or a tambourine as the only backup. At the same time we are obviously influenced a little by other two-piece blues groups out there now, like the immortal lee county killers, even the black keys.

HH:: Being from NYC and being a small band, how does the number of bands and different sounds affect you guys?
K:: Like you said, there aren’t a lot of bands on the scene that sound like us, so there isn’t a lot of direct influence working into our sound from other people we see playing around. I don’t know what I am talking about.

F:: Well, I think the number of bands and different sounds in the NYC scene only encourages to push our own limits, while creating a network of friends that is ever expanding for us to immerse ourselves in. There is a really great folk and blues scene in Brooklyn, with bands like O'Death, and even more rock influenced country/blues like Young Lords, Mason Dixon, Stylofone, Abigail Warchild, there definitely is a scene for which there is support and organized shows/parties going on all the time.

We are actually playing with These United States and Pascalle on Aug. 19th at the Annex, both bands that are on the quiet acoustic folk side that we are very fond of.

HH:: What's next for you guys now that the EP is finished?
K:: More shows, more songs. We are just trying to get enough written that we can start working on a full album. We got offered a show in Tokyo, so we are really just waiting for another hundred show offers or so and then we can book the Murder in Denmark world tour.

F:: Yes, the world tour indeed. I think what is next for us is just playing more shows in NYC with bands that we respect, and we will actually be at school next semester in CT, so perhaps more shows there. Keenan will actually be at sea for a few months, so perhaps we will be on hiatus, or rather, booking really awesome shows for when he gets back. I know we have like two small windows in October that I am trying to book The Annuals at Wesleyan, so maybe we will open for them.

Recently, we have been writing more songs than we ever have. Almost a new one a week, or every two weeks, that has been sort of reshaping our sound. Now more than anything that is what we are focusing on. At these early stages we are still defining our sound, experimenting with different sounds of distortion for different plateaus of heaviness, and even more rhythmic sections straying away from our punk sound and perhaps moving towards groove oriented song structures. I do want to get back in the studio and demo some these songs, as we have already tested them out on crowds and receive better and better reactions each time.

MP3:: All My Trials


Posted at 10:41 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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News:: It's Petra's Birthday

Today is my wife Petra's birthday. Like any good husband, I rack my brain each and every year trying to come up with a romantic way to celebrate this occasion. This year I had a revelation, and that revelation appeared to me in dance form. I decided I would choreograph a sultry dance routine that P and I would perform to celebrate her birthday. I mean, who doesn't love dancing? Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I do not love dancing. I also realized I needed to find two kind people willing to stand in for us and perform the dance I painstakingly choreographed in co-ordination with Paula Abdul and Leroy from Fame, Gene Anthony Ray.

Luckily two of Canada's current indie rock icons were willing to help me out. In the video below, the role of Petra will be played by Feist, and I will be played by the unofficial mayor of Mount Uniacke, Buck 65. Please enjoy.

Also to celebrate P's birthday, we will be hitting the Joel Plaskett Emergency show at the Alderney Landing in Dartmouth tonight. Should be quite the show, as I hear Ashtray Rock producer, and former double-guitar wielding Big Sugar frontman, Gordie Johnson is flying in to play with Joel, so that should be interesting. Jenn Grant and Peter Elkas are also playing tonight, so it really should be an excellent show. You can check out my reviews for Joel, Jenn, and Pete here, here, and here respectively. That is of course if the current fog bowl/monsoon conditions we're currently experiencing can ease off a bit, otherwise the excellence will certainly drop a notch. Anway, the first single and video from Ashtray Rock is Fashionable People, which I believe is also P's favorite song on the album, so enjoy both.

Happy Birthday P!

mp3:: The Joel Plaskett Emergency - Fashionable People

Posted at 7:57 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Reviews:: The Mohawk Lodge Wildfires

I opened the new Mohawk Lodge record with what can only be described as anticipation. The last record - Rare Birds - was a great collection of rough, country/folk campfire tracks from Ryder Havdale (supplemented by his talented friends). The aptly titled new record, Wildfires, according to Ryder is "more party than campfire". After a few listens, I'd say it's the type of backyard party where people get a little out of hand, shit gets broken or lit on fire, and you wake up in the morning with a splitting headache and wonder why you are sleeping outside.

The record starts with Hard Times, a catchy, front porch track that bounces along nicely, but the first thing that hits you is the fullness of the mix. The most obvious changes are Ryder abandoning his worn acoustic for an electric and that the collective (featuring local stalwarts Dan Boeckner, Marc Morrisette, JP Carter, Tiffani Mohammed and lots more) drifted into a more blue collar rock n' roll sound. Fans shouldn't be scared, because the sincerity of the song makes you realize there is nothing different about Ryder, he's just interested in changing how he gets his thoughts across. The lead single, Wear 'Em Out (featuring Dan Boeckner on vocals) adds a poppy keyboard riff at the 2:50 mark that is infectious, and completely unexpected.

He still writes beautiful, slow songs - like Timber, Calm Down and Why Would You? - but he sounds more like the Boss than (Prince) Bonnie. More Constantines than Hayden. The supporting players add vocals, notes and noodles that makes this seem like a more polished release. It's all within reason, as the songs still have heart and fit together like a homemade table instead of the normal IKEA mass produced items that are all to common in the new wave and blog-rave Indie world. But as the subtle horns on Timber compliment Ryder's vocals and the guitar and drums fight for whatever space they can find, you get to appreciate another side of his songwriting. Calm Down uses a choral affect to solidify the mix, and the result is a sound that oozes Vancouver, oozes Canada.

The same can be said about the road trip stomper that ends the record - Rising Sun. It's a six-minute epic where Ryder recants a journey across this country of ours and it's probably more symbolic than intended. The verses and long guitar bridges represent the long spaces between cities and the time where you simply reflect, listen to the AM radio and watch the odometer turn.

But without question, the tone of the band has shifted and I like the transition. Mohawk Lodge always pushed the sound limits of using an acoustic, and Ryder's switch to an electric guitar let's the collective add the feedback and riffage they always pushed for when they got on stage. Heart of Lovers is a frantic riff with hand claps and distortion and I'm not sure any fan of crunched rock could not like the song. Ryder sings with such immediacy that the energy skyrockets, and as he screams out the song's finale you can just picture this being a show closer, where fans leave sweat-soaked and smiling.

This record isn't going to change your life, but the beauty is Ryder and his friends don't want it to. It's a record that makes you want to scream along with a band you love over a few pints. Nothing more and nothing less.

Luckily, we can all do that on Aug. 9th @ the Anza club here in Vancouver.

MP3:: Wear 'em Out (ft. Dan Boeckner)
MP3:: Traitors and Knives - Rare Birds

web site :: myspace :: label

Posted at 2:04 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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News:: The Acorn release new song from upcoming record

The Acorn is releasing a new record - Glory Hope Mountain - this fall (9/25) and they gave Pitchfork an exclusive. Apparently, the record is going to be based on the life and times of Rolf's mother while she was still living in Honduras.

The first song, is titled - The Flood Pt. 1 - and it's a chaotic collection of percussion and hand claps that flows and builds very organically. Its a new twist for the band, but I really dig it.

MP3:: The Flood Pt. 1

Posted at 10:56 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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News:: Quake Provides Sand, Tells Canadian Rappers To Go Pound It

The diss track has been a part of hip hop since it's inception. For many years, MC's could make a name for themselves by calling out a big name MC and daring him to respond. Some of the biggest names in hip hop have used the diss track to make their reputation. As I mentioned in my review for KRS-One & Marley Marl's recent team up, Hip Hop Lives, if Shan hadn't responded to KRS' initial attack on him, KRS and BDP might've never blown up. So you might say hip hop and diss tracks go back like Fairview skivs and Chinese slippers.

I know you're probably saying "What? Why would I say that, I don't even know what it means?" I'll concede the reference is a little on the coconut banger's ball tip, as I don't expect the majority of our regular readers to know that Fairview is the name of the neighborhood in Halifax where I spent my formative years and where I attended school from grades primary through grade 9. But it makes sense when you consider the track accompanying this is from Quake, a young rapper from Halifax who also just happens to be from Fairview.

Even though many rap cats have built their careers on beef, the idea of a new MC randomly calling out a vet just to make a name for himself is kind of played at this point. There are just so many MC's putting out music that the odds of the intended target actually hearing the song are slim to none. So what's a young, hungry MC to do? It's pretty simple actually, you simply diss an entire country and see who's willing to come back at you. That is exactly what Quake has done with Quake vs. Canada. He's called out a number of this country's current urban music luminaries by name, and has all but dared them to step to him (as an aside, props to Quake for giving, uhh, props, to Maestro at the end of the song. For all intents and purposes, the man known as Fresh Wes remains un-dissable in this country).

Why make such a bold move? Herohill's chief Fairview/Greek culture correspondent Mario "Mr. E." Eleftheros, who also taught Quake at FJHS when he was but a mere tremor, put us in touch with the man himself so we could get his side of the story:

the point of the track was to just prove the fact that controversy sells. The other fact was that i knew it was going to get me a lot of attention. I don't have a very big budget to work with like all these artists I mentioned so I have to think outside the box to promote myself.

Essentially, this is genius. Why has no one tried it before? I have no idea, but let's recap some of the highlights of the track:

  • A certain rapper with a recent hit and his sexy-man R&B; friend might end up like a certain mid-east dictator

  • One of Canada's most buzzworthy female rappers might also have a penis

  • A certain indie/rap sensation, and friend of mine, is fond of both the coke and the X

  • The careers of Canada's left coast rap superstars are most certainly over

Oh, it's all very juicy, but you'll have to listen to the track to find out who's who and what's what. I know what you're thinking, some feelings could be hurt by this track, is Quake worried about that?

Nothing in that track was meant to be personal, it was meant more for people to be like...OK there is talent outside of ontario.

Amen, so what's up Canada? Anyone got a set of brass ones big enough to respond to Quake? Get at him on myspace if you think you can hang. The hill certainly backs him against any and all challengers this country has to offer. Especially you Saskatchewan! I know you aren't mentioned by name in the track, but it's basically implied that you are a punk (province). well maybe I made that up, but I'm still waiting to here any hip hop from your province Saskatchewan, so here's your chance to shine.

mp3:: Quake - Quake vs. Canada

Posted at 8:13 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

News:: AA Soundsystem to play Vancouver

AA Soundsystem is heading to our fair city for a show. Usually tag lines on a myspace page don't really add up, but calling them a "rurally-minded-urban-electrical-alt-roots band" is pretty spot on.

Relevant details: 30 Jul 2007 @ the Railway Club.

Should be a great show.
MP3:: Laissez-Faire
MP3:: I Don't Get You At All


Posted at 4:19 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Jason Spooner The Flame You Follow

Jason Spooner is an artist you'd go see every Tuesday with a bunch of friends. Or maybe his set is the one you'd walk by at a Folk Festival and actually stop and listen. He's got a lot of different styles, all of which end up in that hippie-friendly mishmash of acoustic, funk, organ. The thing that helps him stand out from every other person trying that style is the nice flow of his vocals and strength of his lyrics. He never views his words as an after thought, and uses nice wordplay and a sense of humor when needed.

Spooner has made the transition from a solo artist to a man with a band, and the progression really helps. The record uses instrumentation to beef up most of the tracks, but he never loses the sincerity you need from a talented solo artist. The record jumps off with Black and Blue - a double-tracked acoustic number that slowly evolves into much more. The gentle bowed bass breaks up the riff nicely and intrigues you enough to keep listening. That's probably the best way to describe the trio - they keep you listening. None of the songs ever faded into the "background noise" trap that plagues acoustic artists.

He really finds his niche on Spaceship, a finger-picked ditty that can best be described as an homage to Peter Gabriel. The chorus is super catchy and light and Spooner's vocals float along nicely. The riff is nothing overly complex, but the band throws in organ, harmonica and accordion at the right times.

His songs never really settle into a fixed sound. He jumps from funk to acoustic to country western (Meant To Be), but the tracks never seen forced. I think Spooner has the sound that could be easily embraced by the mainstream if he got an opening spot for someone like Mayer or James Blunt (especially when you listen to The Flame You Follow and you hear the vocal similarities), but he could easily shift into the more beach friendly sounds that are making the rounds as well.

Spooner obviously likes to get people moving and he has songs that fall into the Brushfire / ALO beach vibe that make the people sway. The organs, keys and sax on Fight the Fire (and Simple Life to be honest) will make any Zach Gill fan stand up and move - especially when the Superstition-esque Hammond bounces around the track.

Some of the nicest tracks are the ones that feature Kim Taylor on backing vocals. Their voices mesh perfectly, and they are able to turn in a solid performance on the ambitious cover of Slippery People. Covering the Talking Heads is a bold decision, but I found myself settling into the song fairly easily. Kim's voice adds an almost Be Good Tanyas feel to the cover.

I'm not really sure if this CD fits into anything I'd listen to regularly, but that shouldn't distract any people who are into the styles I've talked about. The production is super tight and Spooner has the talent to pull these songs off. If the right people hear this disc (like the beautiful Mirror this Morning) it could be one of those discs that explodes.
MP3:: Slippery People
MP3:: Spaceship
MP3:: Waterhole
Video:: Fight the Fire

web site

Posted at 11:46 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: The Representatives (Touch & Nato) - Intelligent Design

At this point, I'm out of jokes about Alberta hip hop. Here at the hill we've tapped into a pipeline of Alberta hip hop that flows across the country and ends up in Halifax for me to review. It's fine by me, as it's given me the chance to make plenty of jokes about how Alberta is lousy with oil money and out here on the East Coast we, uh, aren't. Which might isn't all that funny in theory, but I shall digress and discuss the latest Albertan hip hop export The Representatives' (Touch & Nato) Intelligent Design.

If Touch & Nato were re-enacting DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Princes' seminal album He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper then Touch would play the role of the Fresh Prince, and Nato would be DJ Jazzy Jeff. Which is to say that Touch is the MC, and Nato is the DJ. Nato also produced the entire album and, in fact, Nato also runs his own studio in North Edmonton, which is used by Canada's indie hip hop man of the moment, Cadence Weapon, who also makes a guest appearance on this here album. So let's discuss it.

Big drums and a solid piano riff provide the backdrop for, Where I Reside, the tightest song I've ever heard about defending ones' decision to still reside in Canada's 6th most populous city. The Edmonton reppin' continues on The Representatives where Touch makes it clear which city he, ummm, represents. Somethin' Real features Brooklyns own Wordsworth, and both he and Touch kick rhymes about the grittiness of city life over a nice beat that alternates between violins and horns.

The beat on Brand New is kind of a study in contrast, with its static-laden opener and boom bap drums paired with some jazzy saxophone. It serves as a solid background as Touch performs a psychological assessment on a potential MC rival. Touch doesn't have much faith in said MCs' skills: "the punch lines you create are wacker than the Jamaican bobsled team figure skatin'". That is wack indeed. These days you don't get many Carnie themed hip hop songs, but Freak Show has just such a theme and a zany circus beat to match. Can't Hold Me Back has a catchy beat and features the line "you couldn't hold me back if you were a Jamaican chiropractor" which I enjoy, but it features one of the worst choruses I've heard in a while. But big up to the Jamaican metaphors.

What I Want To Say is a solid jam that features Touch calling out fake MC's over thick drums and cartoonish strings. I used to think Montell Jordan had by far the dopest modern take on Slick Rick's classic Children's Story ("All they said was 6'8 he stood, and people thought the music that he made was good!"), but Montell might have some competition now, and I don't mean from that young buck looking to take his spot as fry cook. Adult's Story features Touch & Nato flipping the beat & lyrics from the Ricky D. original to tell the classic hip hop tale of a goldigger trying to trap a rapper by claiming said rapper is her baby daddy. Not a bad song, but honestly, the beeping of the curse words is really kind of wack. Either just curse and leave it in, or follow Heavy D's advice.

Touch Your Toes features some really bitter dude named the Inglewood Junkyard Dog giving about the most misogynist rant you could perhaps imagine. The trick is that on the next song, Four Letter Word, Touch goes though line by line and disputes everything the dog says. Interesting concept, but honestly, who could sit through the rant every time you played the album? Some might not even make it through the first time, so the following song might not make sense. But I do give props for trying something new. The album closes with a remix of What I Want To Say which features Touch and Cadence Weapon over a swirly beat that sounds vaguely like Please Listen To My Demo. Good song.

I feel I must once again harp on my current bugaboo of album length. I think, at 18 songs, Intelligent Design suffers from a case of the too longsies. Not a huge problem, but some of the songs blended together for me, and I think cutting it down would help solve that. But, this is a good album. I can't put it in the mind-blower category, but that category is rather light on the hip hop these days anyway. What it is, however, is a good solid hip hop album done by a couple guys who obviously have plenty of respect for hip hop, and try to make hip hop the "right" way. Which sounds kind of pretentious or whatever, but I'm too lazy to find a better way to say it, and I think our loyal readers are certainly savy enough to know what I mean. As always supporting Canadian hip hop is a good thing, so check Touch & Nato out for yourself.

mp3:: The Representatives - Where I Reside

mp3:: The Representatives - What I Wanna Say

Posted at 8:50 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Reviews:: Cary Brothers / Stars of Track & Field / Mother Mother :: @ Richards on Richards

Last night at Richards the venue was filled with preconceptions, and most of them were wrong. A relatively small turnout showed up for Mother Mother's first local show in forever. And so began my errant preconceptions. When Mother Mother played their CD release show, I thought they were about to explode. Their record was out on Last Gang and the songs are great. More importantly, they don't sound like anyone else. Three part harmonies, banging drums, art-school rockers, hip hop back beats; this band uses all of those elements and more. They are a crazy hybrid of bluegrass, punk, indie rock, and funk.

So naturally, I expected more people to be there cheering them on. Sadly, the dance floor was only sort-of-filled. There isn't much I can say about the band that is any different from last show, except the venue and the performance were much better. They tore through a 40-minute, high energy set an threw in three new songs that hint the next record is going to be just as good. Some of the standouts were Polynesia, Touch Up, and Dirty Town, but the energy was high for the whole set. The performance seemed a bit tighter than last time I saw them; especially with the choreographed dance moves. Debra Jean and Molly really seemed more comfortable belting it out, but the biggest eye-opener for me was how talented the drummer was. Kenton really kept the songs together as he attacked the skins like they were a dance floor on ladies night.

Stars of Track & Field were up next, I can admit I've never paid this band ANY attention. I'm pretty sure Tyler told me to check them out, but I never did. I think I assumed they were generic indie rock and never bothered (same label as Evanescene and Finger 11 - strike 1: generic Coldplay and Radiohead comparisons - strike 2). So when Jason Bell and Kevin Calaba came out with matching shag haircuts, shirts and some sort of ascot thing going on, I was quite ready to pass on them again. Surprisingly, their set commanded my attention.

The three-piece (no bass) actually created some very digestable, but still noise-filled textures and big guitar riffs that suited their vocal style. After seeing a 5-piece, three voice explosion like Mother Mother, it says a lot that these guys sounded fuller. The electronic bass lines and double guitars sounded good. I'm not sure how it transfers to CD (and I'm sure it would very easy to play spot the influences with these guys), but for the 45 minutes or so they played, I was actually impressed by how well they built up from a soft whisper to a shout. When an opening band you've never listened to can keep you interested, I think it says something.

Cary Brothers was up next. His is probably the biggest preconception of all. Let's get it out of the way early. Zach Braff has championed this guy and used his songs on some of his projects (most obvious Garden State). I think as a result, everyone expects Cary to be some pomppous, rich singer / song writer, writing cheesy hits for movies and TV. The truth is actualy almost the complete opposite. He seems like a geuine guy, and made mention that he's happy to see anyone show up. He's touring the hell out of his record tryiing to show people he's not one song.

Well, last night, he converted a few Vancouverites. More people stayed around after Mother Mother than I expected so the floor at Richards was more than a few scattered fans. Cary and his band played a nice set - throwing in tracks from the album and his EPs, but more importantly, they really looked to be having fun. The energy kept it from being another sleepy acosutic set, as the piano and electric guitar helped break up the sad ones. Some of the best songs included Jealousy and If You Were Here, but the band sounded tight throughout the whole show.

He even debuted a song called Canada - that he had never played with a band live before, which was a nice treat. When he came back for his encore, he was surprised but grateful for the support and gave us a nice treat - a stripped down, solo cover of Westerberg's Skyway. All in all, I don't think there is anything I would have wanted to be different last night. Not a bad Monday at all. Here are some photos and two bad sounding MP3s. Enjoy!

MP3:: If You Were Here (cut) - Cary Brothers live
MP3:: Canada - Cary Brothers live

All photos by Nic - note to Richard's. The smoke machine vibe is done. Please stop shooting smoke into the air every twenty seconds. It ruins most of the pics.

Posted at 1:55 PM by ack :: 1 comments

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Old School Mondays:: Kid N' Play Birthday Bonus Edition

Is it Monday? No, it is not. However, it is the birthday of Herohill charter member Shawn Lapaix, so I figured something should be posted to commemorate the occasion. Considering I prefer posting the old school hip hop jams and Shawn was a big fan of kick-step pioneers Kid N' Play, something from their cannon seemed appropriate.

As you can see below, I went with the theme for House Party II, Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody. An almost perfect example of popular hip hop in 1991. The uptempo, dancey R&B; beat, the new jackish keyboard solo, the raps about good times and actually dancing at the club instead of shooting it up - oh the nostalgia! If you check the video, there's even some electric slide-style hip hop line dancing, don't see that much anymore. I highly recommend checking out the video as it features a "mature" Kid N' Play with Kid rocking the curly braids instead of the famous HTF, and both Play and DJ Wiz are rocking 70's inspired floppy hats that might've been in fashion for about 10 minutes.

If you were in high school in 1991, both House Party II and this song bring back the fond memories. I suppose that's unless you were a metal-head or a mopey grunge kid, then this probably brings back fond memories of the hundreds of times you said "I hate rap!" or "It isn't music!". Good times indeed.

So happy birthday to the man known lovingly as "Lapaix", I hope you enjoy the song and video.

mp3:: Kid N' Play - Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody


Posted at 9:46 AM by naedoo :: 2 comments

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Reviews:: Travel by Sea Shadows Rise (re-issue)

There are very few things you can take at face value, especially in the music blog world. Every record is hyped up as the best release of the year, especially once it gets the support of the most noted bloggers. There are a few names you can actually trust - notably Aquarium Drunkard and Catbirdseat - and that's because they put their money where their mouths are and release records they believe in on their own labels.

So when I heard Justin was releasing Travel By Sea on Autumn Tone, I pretty well assumed it would be rock solid. Aside from the song they added to the Yerbird compilation, I was rather unfamiliar with the two-piece country/folk version of Postal Service. Theirs is an interesting back story, as the band is made up of two relative strangers - California’s Kyle Kersten and Denver Colorado’s Brian Kraft. They made the whole record without ever actually meeting, just trading thoughts, sounds and ideas over the internet. Kyle wrote the lyrics and guitar parts, and Brian added the muscle and mood behind the songs.

The amazing thing about the outcome is not that it was made by two strangers, but how familiar they are with each other's style and how well these two strangers compliment each other. Kersten's vocals and guitar take you to a time where things move at a slower pace, but Kraft's influence gives the songs the modern touch needed to bolster the sound and make it stand out. The duo uses a gentle acoustic guitar to set the path, but dots the landscape with banjos, steel, drum machine textures and piano to create a much more interesting journey. Kersten's pain on Consequence (LTS) is matched perfectly by the textures and fuzz Kraft adds to the mix. The gentle ebbs and flows never crowd the mix. Little flourishes pull you close, and lessen their grip forcing you to focus on the desolation Kyle so often sings about.

Vocally, you can hear a lot of Kersten's peers in his own voice. Will Johnson, Willy Vlautin, Matt Pryor, Jay Farrar - any of these artists could be thrown around when talking about the band, but his voice really is his own. On the standout track, Complete Shakeup, he exposes a fragility in his voice on the falsetto stretch of the chorus, and it's the way he opens up that draws really draws you in. It's the exhaustion that end each line on Nothing (that are balanced by a swirling steel, piano and heavy down strum) or the upbeat nature of the aptly titled Brightside (that uses the almost summery banjo/guitar balance to force a smile) that helps you become a part of the tracks.

The record is seamless and encourages a complete listen by adding enough variation to keep you guessing. The gentle, electronic heartbeat of the most ambitious track (Still) or the beautiful strings that carry the tune on Come Back to You come out of nowhere, but fit perfectly. It's amazing how the duality of the band makes this whole record so completely focused and precise. I could go on and on, but it would be easier to just say this record is the type of record you'd expect to find on Autumn Tone.
MP3:: Complete Shakeup

web site :: myspace :: label :: more mp3s

Posted at 3:38 PM by ack :: 1 comments

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Between the covers:: Cary Brothers vs. Thompson Twins

Tonight, one of the most misunderstood people in the indie scene is hitting Vancouver, with a nice collection of support (Mother Mother - MP3:: Dirty Town - Mother Mother and the Stars of Track & Field - MP3:: Centuries - Stars of Track & Field

Cary Brothers - yes, he is one guy - started getting noticed by his addition on the ole Garden State soundtrack (along with other Braff projects like Scrubs and The Last Kiss). Unfortunately, it was with one of the songs I like least of his debut full length. Even more unfortunate was the fact he got type cast as some super successful, typical singer song writer.

In reality, Cary's been trying hard to keep control of his music and career, and is part of the fantastic LA based song writer collective. So Nic and I are hitting the show tonight and hopefully having a chance to sit down and chat with Cary.

Anyway, on with the covers.
If You Were Here - The Thompson Twins
This song gets a pass for the John Hughes factor. Molly Ringwald and super Jake having a bday cake as Sixteen Candles ends. It's classic like coke. The song is actually kind of mud, and it was the best song the Thompson Twins ever wrote. So, it might be best to leave it at that and move on.

MP3:: If You Were Here - Cary Brothers
I actually enjoy Cary's take on this song. He manages to stay fairly true to the song, but makes it sound fresh. The double guitar works well with Cary's long drawn out vocal delivery and the female harmonies are nice.

Decision - Cary Brothers.

Update:: New Maritime music is always good. My Old Kentucky Blog is hosting up the first song from their upcoming release. The song is a bit different than classic Maritime. The guitar and bass are fuzzed out, but Davey's vocals and Dan's drumming are spot on. You can't help but move around, especially when the chorus booms.
MP3:: For Science Fiction - Maritime

Posted at 10:32 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Old School Mondays:: Everlast & Donald D

All right, because I was on vacation last week, the Ack took the reins for Old School Mondays. Since he was kind enough to help out, I couldn't say no when he had a suggestion for this week's installment. It seems he came across the video for Everlasts' The Rhythm, which is rather awesome, so he wanted us to put that one up. Done deal, but what to pair with it? Well, I didn't put much thought into to be honest. The Syndicate Sniper Donald D appears on The Rhythm along with Everlast and Ice-T, and since I'm the proud owner of a cassette copy of Donald's Notorious, it made sense to put him on too.

mp3:: Everlast f. Ice-T, Donald D, and Diva - The Rhythm
If it seems like Everlast has been around forever, it's because he has. I'm guessing everyone is familiar with Everlast, so I'll skip the obligatory Jump Around jokes, but before he put "Irish" rap on the map, he was down with Ice-T and the Rhyme Syndicate. Although being in a posse helmed by the PT'd dude from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit doesn't seem like a big deal in 2007, in 1990 it was a prestigious spot. Being down with the Syndicate certainly gave Everlast some hip hop creds, so when Forever Everlasting dropped, it was kind of a big deal. The Soul II Soul-esque The Rhythm, with the creatively named "Diva" on the Caron Wheeler vocals, was certainly part of the reason why as it was a bit of a hit. The track is mighty catchy and Everlast opens with "I'm Everlast, born to be a Caucasian, but it doesn't matter what persuasion, you are". Word. Donald D is as relaxed as you'll ever hear him, but his verse is awesome. Ice-T mails his in, but he's an OG, so he'll do what he wants. Enjoy the track and be sure to check out the video below where Everlast & DJ Lethal tried to bring the ghetto Seinfeld look, aka suits & boots, into the mainstream.

mp3:: Donald D - F.B.I.
I think the Syndicate Sniper Donald D was perceived simply as Ice-T's head weed carrier (well perhaps it was only I who held this perception), but he did have some decent hip hop creds. He started he rhyme career in NY as part of the B-Boys who are fairly well known for their jam Rock The House. He then joined a number of NY rappers who hooked up with Ice and the Syndicate in Cali. Donald doesn't have the smoothest flow, he's kind of a yeller, but the steez works on aggressive tracks like F.B.I. where he's yelling about the evils of crack. It might also come as a surprise to today's hipsters, who love the Clipse and their up with coke raps, but at one point rappers used to write anti-crack songs. haha, I know, the naivety! The early 90's with it's "conscious" hip hop and middle east wars that actually ended was truly a simpler time. But anyway, this song was a hit in its day, mainly due to the crazy chorus: "FBI - free base institute - THAT'S WHERE THEY GO TO GET HIGH!!!". I don't think it makes sense, but it is catchy.


video:: Donald D - F.B.I. (can't embed this bad boy, so you'll have to click it to watch)

Posted at 8:41 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Reviews:: Les Petites The Mighty Antlers of Songs EP

Admittedly, I'm late hearing about this Calgary/Brentwood band, but better late than never. Gabriel Collins and Rebecca Taves are the driving force of this outfit, but they enlist the support of their friends (both for musical support and borrowing songs) for these two EPs. Normally I'd be a bit leery of a band who brandishes the title of "Brentwood's quietest band", but what they lack in "noise", Les Petites make up for in ambition and arrangements.

The EPs actually work rather well together, as the restraint and subtle nature of the.mighty.antlers.of.songs.EP features 5 songs that rely on simple piano lines (the opening introduction - chickadee ATTACK! - sounds like a female fronted Sufjan song), and ear catching acoustic arrangements. boy before the woods (it's a prequel), coyote ATTACK! and submersibles II: the battle of the little seahorn are surprisingly upbeat and cement the fact that Rebecca and Gabriel could be trapped in a room with a guitar and nothing else and create magical music. The guitar work, while not overly complex, is catchy and sounds great when the two start singing. The vocal interplay on coyote is fantastic and leads nicely into a Chad van Gaalen cover (Chronograph #1) that actually fits well into the record (and continues the coyote/animal theme of the songs).

As the second EP (might antlers II: an.ark.of.animals.EP) starts, I have to wonder how rocking Brentwood must be, especially when you hear the frantic energy of Best Tasting Wool in The World. Gabriel's vocals are reminiscent of Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, but the arrangement is made up of stompy percussion, powerful harmonic chorus, barely audible backing screams and a aggressively strummed acoustic that add a sense of significance to the track. The second EP flies by, with three of the 5 songs tracking in at a total of 3 minutes (gymnopiedies #1 and stamen ATTACK! fit together nicely and essentially act as a intro into btwitw). The album closer - the rabbit blackberry - is another folky number that could have been penned by Wagner, but the surges the band uses at the chorus makes it leap out of the speakers. That's probably why I liked these EP so much. They seemed familiar, but at almost every turn they went a different direction than the map said.

MP3:: Best Tasting Wool in the World


Posted at 12:53 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Reviews:: Jim Bryson Where the Bungalows Roam

Jim is a talent that Canadians should be aware of, but he tends to play the back instead of standing up demanding to be heard. He's been a part of Kathleen Edwards and Howie Gelb's bands (along with countless other projects), in addition to some fantastic solo records that never seem to get the attention they deserve. His latest, Where the Bungalows Roam, is an album I find myself listening to a lot as the season changes here in Vancouver.

This is a record I should have talked about before, as it has spent hours on repeat when I write and enjoy the morning quiet. The record is filled with beautiful sadness, the type that might overwhelm you on gray Vancouver mornings, but seems somewhat comforting when accompanied by the warming sun. The record opens with Flowers, a nostalgic tale of regret, and Jim uses only enough notes that are required to push the tune along. The arrangement is delicate and feels almost isolated (despite the harmonies, piano, and steel guitar), much like the lyrics.

The pace is hastened slightly on If By the Bridge, which is a more summery tune. It floats by like a gentle updraft, lifting your spirits, despite Jim lamenting that everyday is the same as the day before. That's probably what is so great about this record. Jim tells vivid stories of sadness, but never do the songs become drama filled and they are always paired nicely with light, pleasant sounds that draw you closer, like you are waiting to hear him tell you his most precious secrets (like the piano and finger picking on one of the best songs - Clear the Crowds). He transports you just as easily on the contradicting Blood on the Slacks. The guitar riff makes you want to move around, despite the fact he's praying for the end of a bad relationship.

The banjo laced Fire Watch is another treat. Honestly, I can't think of a better word to describe it than breathtaking. The slight electro current that runs through the channels casts a new tempo on the song, but the slow bowed strings helps it fit perfectly into the overall vibe of the record. Its such a good record, you can listen to it over and over again, and constantly change which song is your favorite.

Anyway, I've gushed enough. To any fans of great folk music, don't sleep on this great record. It is more than worth your while.
MP3:: If By the Bridge
Stream:: Where the Bungalows Roam
MP3:: Swinging Party (Paul Westerberg cover)
Stream:: Jim live @ the Black Sheep Inn via CBC radio

web site :: label :: more mp3s

Posted at 1:23 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Mr. J. Medeiros - Of Gods & Girls

Mr. J. Medeiros, Jason Medeiros to his friends and telephone bank tellers, has stories to tell. Based on his name alone, you might think those stories are about runway techniques and are told on America's (Or Canada's) next top model. But this is not so. Mr J. is an MC, the kind of MC that usually has a point to make, or a story to tell, when he rhymes. I know that's a bit out there for today's hip hop climate, but it can be a good thing. Whether it's the ladies, the evils of child porn, addiction, female body-image issues, or cash-flow problems, Mr. J. has something tangible to discuss on every track. When you add that to the stellar production found on Of Gods And Girls, you get an album that is very likely worth your time.

When you consider that Mr. J is 1/3 of the Colorado Springs, Colorado (although now LA based) group The Procussions, it might not be surprising that he has such a social focus on his solo album. Although they received a fair bit of mainstream attention, the Procussions have a rep as a "Christian Rap" group that certainly didn't smash you over the dome with the god hammer, but they certainly allude to the big man upstairs in their music. Or at least that's what I've read, as I haven't heard the album. If you and I can be honest, and I feel we can, ever since getting burned by the Dynamic Twins back in the day, I've steered clear of anything labeled "Christian Rap". That's why I haven't heard the Procussions album, but I'm glad my holy hip hop bias didn't keep me from hearing this one.

Mr. J doesn't have the most commanding presence on the mic, but he is certainly very comfortable and his flow has a very listenable quality that makes his songs work, despite the sometimes heavy subject matter. Amelie kicks things off on a "girl as goddess", laid-back vibe that uses organ, horns, and guitar licks to nice effect. It also features a verse a verse from a french MC who may or may not be MC Solaar (note: it is not MC Solaar), but it's something you don't hear everyday. Constance is the first single being promoted from this album, and that makes sense as it makes the biggest impact of any song on the album. Over big drums, J. tells a story that shows the insidiousness of child porn, a subject you wouldn't expect a hip hop artist to take on.

The Jazzy guitar licks of Change lighten the mood and find Mr. J joined by fellow Procussion Rez as well as the Strange Fruit Project. King Of Rock Bottom features DJ Vajra scratching DMC on the chorus and Mr. J discussing the evils of the firewater (but oh the positives!) over a dense beat. Keep Pace has one of the catchiest beats on the album with uptempo drums, strings and fluctuating vocal samples that build to a crescendo at the chorus. Pigeon John and some cool organ join Mr J. on Money, a jam about the way the ole cashola can mess with us. The sweeping Call You caps the album off with a heartfelt tribute to Mr. J's parents. Well it isn't officially the final track as there are 4 remixes at the end of the album, but it's the last original song.

Those remixes bring to mind one of my current music pet peeves: album length. For years now, hip hop albums have been waaaay too long. However, this is an album that shows how it can be done right in 2007. It's 12 strong original songs, and then 4 remixes. That means it's still 16 songs long, but I don't mind the remixes as they're more like bonus content and I know up front that Mr. J. isn't trying to fool me into thinking I'll be getting 16 new songs. In fact, Mr. J. gets plenty of things right on this album. It isn't hip hop perfection, but it does a very good job addressing serious issues in a enjoyable way. Not always easy too find, and that's probably what I like most about the album: when I feel like some substance, I can play the album and get into the lyrics, but if I feel like zoning out, it's still strong enough musically to satisfy. Again, not an easy to find these days, so I'd say Of Gods And Girls is worth checking out.

mp3:: Mr. J. Medeiros - Constance


Posted at 7:45 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Reviews:: Mum Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy

A lot has changed in three years (not any of my favorite band t-shirts but still), especially what is hot in indie music. A few years ago, quirky, spasticated, ethereal organic, electro bands weren't really blowing up, but in '07 people are all over it. Panda Bear, Dan Deacon, Animal Collective are becoming blog-hold names, and now after a few listens I can happily erase any doubts I had about the new Mum record.

It's been 3 years since the last release, and the band is essentially a bigger shell of it's former self. With only two original members (the band had some reductions and lost the twins - Kristin Anna and Gyoa) and grew to a whopping seven member outfit. Obviously, Mum (as fans knew them) exists more in name than in reality, as you can't undergo such big changes over such a long period of time and expect everything to be status quo.

Personally, I think the change suits the band nicely. They still use obscure samples, video game effects and child-like vocal lines, but they seem to be much more concerned with melody. It's still chaotic, but feels more focused and grown up than what I was expecting. They Made Frogs Smoke 'Til They Exploded really sums up the whole experience. Some odd vocals and blips start the track, but the band adds a harmonica and machine gun percussion to forge a melody out of the fog. The first minute is spent setting up the story and for the last three minutes you simply buckle in and enjoy the ride.

The septet sound really helps convert those on the fence, because the tracks don't seem nearly as minimal as the last release. The are fleshed out at just the right time - like how the chimes of These Eyes Are Berries are gradually beefed up with a frantic backbeat and a gritty bass kick) - but each part maintains its identity and fits appropriately.

I find it hard to describe Mum (and always have). They aren't a band I consistently listen to, but they are a band whose collection I thoroughly enjoy. Not many bands can follow a two-minute atmospheric, harmonic piano track (Moon Pulls) with a fragmented, slow burning epic that uses countless blips and textures and slowly evolves into a beautiful string symphony /movie score (Marmalade Fires). They can combine a hokey waltz sound with rapid fire programming (School Song Misfortune) and Bjork-like vocal insanity and make it work. Guilty Rocks is simply addictive.

MP3:: Behind the Eyelids
This is the first released song from the record, and it's a mind bender. Only 4 minutes in length, there are no vocals until the 2:30 mark. Instead the song focuses on horns, a faint typewriter-esque beat, and a pulsing (surprisingly melodic) collage of sounds. When the vocals kick in, the boy /girl sound is nice, but the computer game beats still take center stage. Why do I like it? I can't be sure, but I most certainly do.

web site :: label :: more mp3s

Posted at 4:20 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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News:: Vancouver concerts and Your Midway Host

Just a quick-hitter with some shows while I try to find the right words to describe the new Stars record.

10/03/07 - the National @ the Commodore - MP3:: Racing Like A Pro (white sessions)
10/06/07 - The Weakerthans @ the Commodore
10/16/07 - Dr. Dog @ the Media Club - MP3:: My Old Ways

Your Midway Host is a nice myspace find. It is the brainchild of Nich Bazik from Philly. He's a folker who writes some beautiful songs and is currently working with Phil Jimenez (Easy Anthems / Beat Radio) to record his debut LP. Obviously, until you hear a record it's hard to tell, but the demos show a lot of potential. The dusty trial feel of Oak Tree is my fav, but he's offering up Seville for free. Worth checking out.
MP3:: Seville

Posted at 11:58 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Reviews:: Young Galaxy

After happily reading about Arts & Crafts decision to release the Stars record and preempt the lechers, I started thinking about the stable of successful artists the label has harnessed. I mean, if you look at their roster, you are left waiting for their first band signing. That being said, one band I thought I had posted on (but hadn’t, despite the fact this record was played a lot during my work trip to Paris) really stands out in my mind.

That band is Young Galaxy. Their self-titled debut stands apart from the other artists on the great label for many reasons:

  • The boy/girl vocals of Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless rely less on energy and more on subtle, dark tones

  • The swirling, atmospheric guitar work and organ textures are a marked departure from what you’d expect from the former Stars touring guitarist

  • The record unveils a lot of ambition and the band really seems focused on establishing their own sound –both on their label and in the Canadian indie scene

You only have to listen to the first song – Swing Your Heartache – to hear the differences. It is much more 90’s than 80’s. The organ heavy melody adds drums and strings to set an ominous tone as the duo trade melancholic vocal lines, but they never let the depression sink in. There is an uplifting undercurrent throughout the whole song that keeps you going. The textures are never obvious; a horn that blends into the wash or a choral harmony that competes with the buzzing background noise that ends the track.

The band seems happy to move at the speed of life, as opposed to the speed of light. The guitars riffs don’t crunch, they creep, morphing to fill whatever space is available. Starting slowly, they continue to build, often overlapping with each other, creating a haze that clears just in time for vocals rich in realism. “Love is a battle.” It is a statement that we all acknowledge (and sadly accept) in our day-to-day life.

The most immediate track on the record is also the most expansive. Wailing Wall starts with nothing more than an acoustic backbone, drums and some electric noodles, but as the track evolves you are hit with understated harmonies. The lyrics could easily have been stripped from a 90’s Brit band, and they compliment the patient build up that never actually peaks. Instead, the song comes to a crashing halt, leaving you exhausted. You might remember that I mentioned the Arcade Fire set at Sasquatch never let you recover from the constant buildup of energy, and became too frantic for my tastes. Young Galaxy gives you the time you need to catch your breath, following Wailing Wall with the reflective The Sun's Coming Up And My Plane's Going Down. It is the type of song you’d play after a long night out as you drive home accompanied by the morning’s first light.

The only stumble the band has is the change of pace rocker, Searchlight. After establishing a tone, the rocker stands out by not standing out at all. It’s the type of song you hear a lot, but considering this is a debut record, calling a song that other good indie bands would be happy to write the weak point says a lot. Especially when it is followed up with the bouncy, reverb heavy Lost in the Call and the Beach Boy laced vocals of Come and See.

MP3:: The Sun’s Coming Up And My Plane’s Going Down

Besnard Lakes and Young Galaxy are at Richard's on September 27th

web site :: myspace :: label :: more mp3s

Posted at 6:01 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Mark Berube What the River Gave the Boat

Keeping with the Canadian theme today, I wanted to spend a few minutes with the new release from Vancouver song writer Mark Berube. It would be easy to simplify things and say that Berube is just another talented song writer from the Great White North and let your imagination pre-determine on all of the sounds you expect to hear with that descriptor. It would be easy, but completely unfair given the ambition of his latest record – What the River Gave the Boat.

Berube mixes elements of folk, piano tonk, and spoken word in a style that results in a subdued, but very charismatic front man. The record starts with a simple piano line, but quickly jumps into a Waits-ian percussive stomp. While evoking the same imagery as the whiskey throated icon, Berube’s vocals are much smoother; like trading in your glass of whiskey for a single-malt scotch. While the bite is still there, it burns just a little less on the way down. The burst of horns completes the song, and as Cloudy Day finishes, you are cemented into the record. Pretty Little Bird continues in the same style, using a simple percussion beat and piano line, and forces you to focus on Berube’s staccato delivery. The descriptions of his characters are presented like a book-on-tape (which isn’t surprising when you consider his spoken word background), albeit with a great backdrop. Like a successful author, his words easily transport you into the fictional world he has created.

What makes Berube stand out is his diversity. He quickly jumps from the percussion heavy numbers into Cowboys, a song that uses subtle hand claps, piano and electric guitar to frame his more traditional vocals. His voice is obviously very malleable, as he moves into a more folk-friendly sound, using a beautiful, soothing approach. With each song, he seems to unveil a new side to his character, but his voice never gives up the spotlight - it is clear and powerful, whether he sings at a frantic, energetic pace (Tomorrow), a slower Rufus/Antony emotional, dark lit piano bar number (Alarms) or delivers an evocative BARR-like spoken word (Barber Shop).

Although Berube’s lyrics and voice are the stars of this production, I’d be remiss not to mention how perfectly the instrumentation supports the effort. The powerful marching drum snare and swirling strings on War Without An End slowly builds the tension and rage of Berube’s tale of a man going off to war. In the same vein, (but a completely contrasting style), the slow stand-up bass line and slow bowed strings of Running Away set the mood for the depressing song of regret. This is a record you really should pay attention to and an artist that is going to be making quality music for a long time.

MP3:: Pretty Little Bird (The Saint of Vancouver)

UPDATE:: Berube is playing here in Vancouver – the CD release party – on Aug. 23th @ Wise Hall.

web site :: myspace :: CBC profile

Posted at 12:57 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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News:: It's new billboard...er.. Polaris Day!

The final nominees are up for the Canadian Polaris prize. The list was pretty standard fare for any fans of Canadian indie rock, but that's ok. All of the nominees, despite not making my list (and really, which is more of an honor?), are deserving. So without further ado (with links to the ones that you might have missed this year):
  • Arcade Fire / Neon Bible
  • The Besnard Lakes / The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse
  • The Dears / Gang of Losers
  • Julie Doiron / Woke Myself Up - review
  • Feist / The Reminder
  • Junior Boys / So This Is Goodbye
  • Miracle Fortress / Five Roses - review
  • The Joel Plaskett Emergency / Ashtray Rock - review
  • Chad VanGaalen / Skelliconnection - review
  • Patrick Watson / Close To Paradise - review
I'd be happy with 80% of the nominees walking away with the 20Gs, and really I'd only be upset if Arcade Fire took the big prize. The Polaris, at least to me, is a chance for great Canadian talent to get recognized and most of those artists could use the money - which I realize shouldn't enter into the voting process, but remember how much attention Final Fantasy got last year? The Arcade Fire (or even Feist) winning would just be a blip on the blog-radar giving people a chance to post another song.

So what would my list be? Thanks for asking:
  • Julie Doiron
  • Joel Plaskett
  • Handsome Furs - Plague Park :: review
  • Miracle Fortress
  • Great Lake Swimmers - Oniagra :: review
Any you think should get more credit or the hill has missed? Let us know.

Posted at 10:30 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Reviews:: Fionn Regan The End of History

There is a working class nobility about a guy and his guitar that makes us want to listen, and as a result I’m willing to give almost acoustic disc a spin. Sadly, more often than not, I’m left flat. With so many people playing the same chord progressions, how can you distinguish the good from the bad (or more fairly, see the light through the haze).

With Fionn Regan, it is the simple realization that at the tender age of 26, this Irish folker seems to have a never ending pool of inspiration to draw from and unlike most acoustic artists, his confidence shines through and leaves you feeling invigorated, not depressed. This clarity and focus might be mistaken for simplicity, as his melodies use sparse arrangements and mostly just an acoustic, but after only a few songs I knew he was onto something special.

Musically, he reminds me of one of my favorites (Teitur) but his voice channels the folky, grizzle of Weakerthans front man, John K. Samson (and admittedly at times his delivery is similar to Dylan’s). On the opening track, Be Good or Be Gone, Fionn’s narrative draws you in, and he doesn’t try to clutter the experience by forcing more sounds than are needed. he doesn't try to be overly complex; just a simple finger picked riff and sparse harmonies.

He uses the same instrumentation for most of the record, but the album never drags or stumbles and that has a lot to do with the presence he creates. He challenges you to turn your ear elsewhere as his songs float along (mostly with powerful uplifting lyrics, not just a result of his simple strums), never weighing on your soul or your shoulders. When you sit and listen you get swept up in his imagery (I mean, how can you not see his words as his angrily says “from the filthy rich to the beggar’s ditch”), and the realistic picture he creates.

He doesn’t strain looking for clever word play and phrasing like so many coffee shop bards, never wasting 45 seconds of a verse building for one overly clever line. Fionn also seems to know when to quicken his pace or add a subtle new sound, like the strings and restrained gallop the band uses on Hunter’s Map or the mood setting percussion and textures on Snowy Atlas Mountains.

For those of you out there looking for another folk hero, Fionn Regan might be your next working class hero. Its obviously too early to tell, but the promise he shows on this record is a great start.
MP3:: Be Good or Be Gone
Video:: Be Good or Be Gone

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Posted at 6:22 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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News:: Arts & Crafts does something very smart with Stars release

From Jeffrey Remedios' lips to our ears. I'm not sure why more labels don't do this, but it lets people have the option to legally grab the record before it leaks and actually support the band. Not everyone wants to steal the record, but when it is available for 3 months before the release on 100 torrent sites, it is very tempting to do the ole save as:
Friends, fans and supporters of Stars... 2007-07-10
On September 25th, Arts&Crafts; will release Stars' fourth studio album, In Our Bedroom After War. We love it and are excited and proud to be bring it to the world.

We enlisted Joe Chiccarelli to mix the album. He finished in early June, passing the tapes along to Emily Lazar at the Lodge for mastering. Last Friday, July 6th, a final master was delivered to us.

Traditional music business practice says we are to begin sending out copies of this album now. We give advance copies to print publications in hopes of securing features that coincide with our September date. We meet with radio stations in hopes of securing airplay. etc, etc.

Inevitably someone will leak the album.

Throughout this process, the most important people in this value chain, the fans, are given only two options - wait until September 25th to legally purchase the new album or choose from a variety of sources and download the album for free, at any time.

We hope you'll choose to support the band, and choose to pay for their album. However we don't think it's fair you should have to wait until September 25th to do so.

We believe that the line between the media and the public is now completely grey. What is the difference between a writer for a big glossy music magazine and a student writing about their favourite bands on their blog? What differentiates a commercial radio station from someone adding a song to their lastfm channel? or their myspace page?

As such, we are making the new Stars album available for legal download today, four days after it's completion. The CD and double vinyl versions of the album will still be released on our official release date, September 25th. We hope you will continue to support music retailers should a physical album in all it's packaged glory be your choice of format.

It's our hope that given a clear, legal alternative to downloading music for free, you will choose to support the creators.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
Jeffrey Remedios, Arts & Crafts
MP3:: The Night Starts Here

Posted at 2:26 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Ryan Adams Easy Tiger

You almost have to feel bad for Ryan Adams. Here’s a guy who writes songs as frequently as Paris Hilton has sex on camera and takes shit from almost everyone about his persona (case in point, Pitchfork saying he couldn’t masturbate anymore when he broke his arm and couldn't play guitar anymore). People usually forget about his great records and never shut up about his less than stellar efforts. Someone always has to bring up a story they heard about Ryan being a dick at a show, and follow it up with saying he peaked with the Whiskeytown records.

But, he keeps on writing and he’s come back with Easy Tiger. The most interesting thing about the reviews from this record is that people seem to like it, but never want to really admit it. For the record, I’m an unashamed Adams fan and enjoy most of his catalog, so I really wanted to take my time with this release and give it enough listens to let the songs grow. If I had to make a generalization, the fact that Adams created a disjointed collection of songs in so many styles actually helped him out. The record is a bouillabaisse of songs he wrote over the last 5 or 6 years and essentially any fan of his work can find something they like and hold onto.

Adams has recreated himself in more ways than Madonna (although unlike Madge his personas often fall on the other side of popular) and this record showcases a lot of them (the hint of Love is Hell sounds on The Sun Also Sets, the slow country meander of his earlier records). The Neil Young flair of Off Broadway or the AM radio feel of the Sheryl Crow ditty, Two, will hit home with two distinct audiences, but will certainly be met with approval. So will the picked banjo and harmonies of the Willie Nelson inspired Pearls on a String. He still includes songs that make you scratch your head and wonder if he enjoys the criticism he receives (Halloweenhead); I mean who else yells out guitar solo in the middle of a song?

The record isn’t seamless, but if it was, it wouldn’t be Ryan Adams. His scattered visions are always enjoyable and comfortably familiar and I think this record is one of the most enjoyable in a while. Just listen to the two plus minutes of Oh My God, Whatever, Etc. and try to disregard his songwriting ability.

Ryan is here playing the fantastical sounding Orpheum Theatre on July 28th.
MP3:: Two
MP3:: Alice (Japanese Release – via Rawkblog)

web site :: label :: more mp3s

UPDATE:: Winner of the Ryan Adams lithograph - Miranda Hafford

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Reviews:: Black Before Red Belgrave to Kings Circle

Black Before Red has some pretty big shoes to fill. Their influences and sound really relies on two styles that have very critical fans. They freely jump into the Sea & Cake bass heavy/harmonious silky jams, but they balance those tracks with a heavy dose of West Coast 60’s pop (I shy away from saying the Shins because I don’t really hear it a lot of the band in their songs). Pleasing either one of those audiences is a challenge, let alone both.

Surprisingly, the debut release – Belgrave to Kings Circle – holds up quite well. The record opens with Underneath Gold and you can’t help but think about Prewitt and Prekop. The snap of the drums and vocal delivery (harmonies) are bang on, and the free moving bass line pushes the track along nicely. It sets the tone for the record, which is summery and fun – especially when the horns take over during the last 50 seconds. It’s the type of song that you throw on as you drive out of the city and find yourself absent-mindedly drumming along on the steering wheel.

Despite how successful this track is, the band (wisely) doesn’t plant itself in that singular vibe. The record changes pace immediately and Matagorda is a light, plunky piano track that uses a marching band snare and accordion and they continue to try out new sounds for the rest of the record. Our Last Summer is a bit more chaotic, using static and feedback to dirty up the shimmering their pop style, but Goddess in Trauma is the song that really shows how well the band can play both sets of influences. The track takes on a Sea and Cake sound in the verses, but on the chorus and bridge, they throw in perfect pop guitars, some ohhhs and hand claps to add a new twist.

The record flows well, as Bosa Nova #7 and Finding Peace in the City won’t turn you off from listening (especially the intense hand clap/harmonica section of Bosa Nova #7), even if they aren't as inspired as other numbers. It’s these songs, that by all means are still very pleasant to the ears, that really showcases the potential the band has. When they come back with Teenage America, you are instantly paying attention. Halliberlin Petroleum is infectious and their recipe of harmonies, jangled guitar and bouncing bass line whets any music lover’s appetite.

For a debut record, Black Before Red delivers enough good songs to convince any doubter and it’s a record that is getting better with each and every listen.
MP3:: Underneath Gold
MP3:: Teenage America

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Posted at 5:08 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Between the Covers:: Pretty in Pink

This is more or less an impromptu version of Between the Covers, used to highlight the great work by the Daytrotter team. Blog dandies – the National – just finished up an intimate 4-song set, and decided to drop a cover of the Psychedelic Furs classic, Pretty in Pink, into the mix.

So, here we go::
MP3:: Psychedelic Furs – Pretty in Pink
The Furs were an interesting mix of punk rock, psychedelic sounds and pop. They kind of used punk as their backbone, but really explored the space so to speak with swirling guitars and horns. This song was probably their biggest hit, and interestingly enough, one of their downfalls. According to ye olde wiki - Richard Butler later claimed that the success of "Pretty in Pink" caused the band to be pressured into entering the studio to record a follow-up release before they were ready. The result was Midnight to Midnight, an album which Butler characterized as "hollow, vapid and weak". But on the flip side of the coin, it was the theme song for a John Hughes movie, which kind of outweighs all the negatives of one shitty album.

MP3:: The National – Pretty in Pink
This simple cover is a perfect example of why I love the National. The drums are perfect - crisp and engaging - and Matt’s vocals grab you and never let go. The band is great at combining simple sounds and moves into the 80s noodles with little to no effort. That being said, the original is hard to beat on nostalgia alone. While Matt’s vocals sound great, you can’t help but miss the gravely sounds of Richard Butler and the borderline cheesy sax.

I have to give this to the Furs in a split decision, but mostly for the fact Pretty in Pink is classic like Coke.

Posted at 1:57 PM by ack :: 1 comments

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Old School Mondays:: Hammer & Primetime Rodney O Joe Cooley

Hammer & Deion Sanders - Straight to My Feet
After last week's rock jock fiasco, we couldn't pass up this gem. Back in the early 90s, Hammer was raising the bar for cornball rap acts. He had all the gimmicks - terrible pants, huge entourage of weed carriers (remember that dude with the angled high top fade) that eventually bankrupted him, and videos with super stars of the world of sports.

Well, this song came out for the Streetfighter soundtrack, so it combined Neon Deion, Hammer and Van Damme. Nuff said. Plus at the time I loved the Falcons more than life itself. In reality, it is kind of terrible. The cheesy synth R & B riff that is generic as yellow label products, the croon in the chorus, coupled with the fact that neither can really flow. This is worth it for the line "prime to the hammer, hammer to the prime" though.
MP3:: Straight to My Feet

Rodney 0 & Joe Cooley - U Don't Hear Me Though
In complete contrast we come at you with one of our favorite groups from back in the day. Rodney O & Joe Cooley were hardasses. They basically attacked NY in true West Coast/East Coast beef, but sadly not many people heard them. If gangs beef in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, do they make a sound?

In this song, Rodney O & Joe come out guns a blazin'. The beat is awesome rehashed p-funk West Coast, but the verses are tight. They start by attacking Hammer for his Hollywood image and just keep going with OPP, R & B, and any other mainstream acts. They rep Compton and diss the NY media for dissing their sound. Need more reasons? Well, we also used to yell "money" when we played dominoes because of this song.
MP3:: Rodney O & Joe Cooley - U Don't Hear Me Though

Posted at 10:29 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Sunday, July 8, 2007

Sunday Sounds:: Jim Ford and Christa Coutore

Another summery Sunday, so here are two quick-hitters to help get you feeling happy.

The first record, admittedly, would best be described on Aquarium Drunkard, but it's one that I've been proud to own for a long time now. Jim Ford was an artist's artist. He penned tracks for Aretha Franklin and Bobby Womack, but his own solo record - Harlan County - is an underground classic. He kind of disappeared after he released it in 1969, but his songs still hold up today. He's the king of country soul. He can write beautiful soulful ballads (Changing Colors), country rockers (Harlan County), but never restricts himself to one style. He can make you dance (Dr. Handy's Dandy Candy, Working My Way to LA) and make you sway (Love on my Brain). But no matter what, he keeps it funky. I know that sounds like generic PR-speak, but it's really hard to describe this record without sounding a bit like a moron. My friend Gregor gave me a copy in university and I still love it ten years later. Just hearing the opening notes of songs like Long Road Ahead makes me smile and put me in a better mood.

Up until a few months ago, you could only get this record on Ebay or on a torrent site, but it's back thanks to the good people at Bear Family records. Not only did they re-release it, they remastered it, added 10 never before released tracks and added 40 pages of liner notes about the mysterious man. The songs they add to this release are amazing as well - it's not unearthing some throwaways. Chain Gang is a show stopper and She Turns My Radio On is as good a Sunday morning track as I've ever found and the backwater swamp stomp Happy Songs Sell Records, Sad Songs Sell Beer is worth it on title alone.

As you listen to the record, you can't help but think about familiar names - Van Morrison, Dr. John - but this is a man who truly formed his own sound. I can't recommend a record more, but don't take my word about him. Listen to his best friend Sly Stone - "Jimmy Ford is the baddest white man on the planet."
MP3:: Working My Way to LA

Christa Coutore is a folk singer from Vancouver, and after her recent trek to NXNW I was hoping for some local shows in the near future. Alas the only shows she is only playing in Kispiox, BC on the July 27 weekend as part of the Festival. Anyway, her last record - Fell Out of Oz - is beautiful. She is playful and poignant, drawing inspiration from events as light as childhood love and as serious as surviving cancer. She's another Canadian singer that should be getting heard by a lot more people.
MP3:: I Will
MP3:: Fell Out Of Oz
Video:: Scared, Too

Posted at 12:23 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Friday, July 6, 2007

herohill.com - summer mix

It's finally summer here in Van-city. The beach is packed. The sun is shining and you can see the mountains for more than a few hours at a time. You really can't complain much, except when your morning jogging route is littered with booming grannies who completely cover the running path on the Sea Wall.

Anyway, it's a summer mix with some songs (old and new) that fit into my summer activities - patio drinks, bbqs, cold beer, wine, acoustic, and soul. So here you go:

Download entire zip - here.

1:: Start a War - The National (Boxer - buy it here)
2:: Mythical Proportions - The Great Outdoors (Food, Booze, and Entertainment )
3:: Resurrection Fern - Iron & Wine (The Shepard's Dog)
4:: After all that, it's come to this (featuring amy millan) - Amos the Transparent (Everything I've Forgotten to Forget)
5:: Middle Distance Runner - Sea Wolf (live on Daytrotter)
6:: MP3:: Atlanta - Centro-matic (Operation Motorcide EP - buy it here)
7:: This Morning I Drove into a Cloud - Oweihops (Cinquefoil)
8:: You've Been Recorded - The Dreadful Yawns (Rest - buy it here)
9:: MP3:: Never Alone - Luke Brindley (Luke Brindley - buy it here)
10:: Something Beaming - Peter Elkas (Wall of Fire - buy it here)
11:: Things Have Changed - David Myles
12:: In the Colors - Ben Harper (Lifeline)
13:: Heart it Races - Dr. Dog (Heart it Races EP - buy it here)
14:: MP3:: Penny for your Thoughts - Joel Plaskett (Ashtray Rock - buy it here)
15:: Stuck for the Summer - Two Hours Traffic (Little Jabs - buy it here)
16:: Oh Dead Day - Dog Day (Night Group - buy it here)
17:: Rhythm & Soul - Spoon (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga)
18:: If You Live - Matt Pond PA (If You Want Blood EP - buy it here)
19:: All the Lines Are Cut - The Coast (The Coast)
20:: MP3:: Have You Seen in Your Dreams - Miracle Fortress (Five Roses - buy it here)
21:: Sweetie - Josh Rouse (Country Mouse, City House)
22:: MP3:: Winter On Victoria Street - The Clientele (God Save the Clientele - buy it here)
23:: Up on the Hillside - Wayne Petti (City Lights Align - buy it here)
24:: Hold On - Tom Waits (Mule Variations - buy it here)

Posted at 2:07 PM by ack :: 1 comments

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News:: Cleaning out the mailbox

Lots of good stuff comes into our mailbox, but sadly we can't always write about each record in the detail we'd like. Here are a couple of songs to preview upcoming releases or just well worth sampling:

MP3:: People are Talking - Beat Radio
Brian's back with more free stuff for the people. The songs starts out at a delicate, carefree pace before the hook breaks in. Classic Beat Radio sound, but at the same time uses new sounds and textures for a more mature sound.

MP3:: The Night Starts Here - The Stars
Torq and Amy's breathy vocals and the dreamy arrangements never get tiresome for me and the more pulsing dance sound is an interesting change of pace for the band.

MP3:: Moments of Moments - Wayne Petti
Cuff the Duke member Wayne Petti's gently finger picks his way through this beautiful song with the help of some piano and organs sounds. It reminds me of the style Ian Love uses on his solo record.

MP3:: The Lion - Goodbye the Band
This band drops all the right influences - the Talking Heads, Stereolab and the Magnetic Fields - but influences aside, The Lion is catchy, eccentric and super fun. The back beat is a a nodder, the vocals sound nice and the breakdown at the 1:52 minute mark and the outro are Au.

Also - please check out the Will Johnson session on Daytrotter. Centro-matic is amazing, as is this session - even if a song was written during the Ravens Superbowl win. Grrr.

Come back later for the herohill summer mix.

Posted at 10:48 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

News:: Jason Isbell in Vancouver

Just a quick update. Former Drive-by Truckers member Jason Isbell is heading to our fair city for a solo show in support of his Siren of the Ditch.

For a little preview, check out the e-card on New West records.

Posted at 4:21 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Miracle Fortress Five Roses

In the upcoming weeks you are going to see a noticeable shift in our content. While we (me) will still tackle the best of the indie/folk worlds and dabble in the up and coming hip hop acts (Shane), we are going to really try to showcase more Canadian bands. One of the reasons we keep this blog going is to find new music. Our favorite posts are those concerning bands that haven’t been blogged to death. The reasons:
  • People have already read everything by the time they stumble onto herohill and it’s more fun to have a chance to express fresh opinions
  • Canada is producing some great music and I’m not just talking about the solo projects from the BSS or the Arcade Fire
One such Canadian band is Miracle Fortress. Miracle Fortress is actually the brainchild of Graham Van Pelt of Think About Life (although the four-piece includes some noted musicians - Adam Waito (Telefauna), Jessie Stein (SS Cardiacs), and Jordan Robson-Cramer (Sunset Rubdown)), and it’s a beautiful combination of warm, swirling guitars, synths and Brian Wilson harmonies. Although the songs are free to roam I actually find them incredibly tight. It’s that control that really acts as the sides of his canvas. He establishes borders, but has no problem painting all over it with sweeping, free, broad strokes.

The album jumps into a full stride with Whirrs. In only two-minutes Graham is able to grab a hold of you with warm guitars, grinding synths, drums, and understated, soothing oohs and aahs, but it’s the second track on the record where you really appreciate how fantastic this project really is. Have You Seen in Your Dreams (which is very accurately named, as it pushes you into that dream like haze) is a perfect combination of guitars and distortion that chug along with the help of Graham’s vocal lines. It is comforting and somehow reassuring and when the crystal clear harmonies explode into your ears, you can’t help but smile.

Next Train, vocally, reminds me of the simple yet elegant harmonies Rogue Wave creates over the sparsest of sounds. Simple snaps and an acoustic riff are all that is needed for this track. Sure they add a gentle crescendo during the second half of the song that you keep expecting to explode like a horse when the reigns are loosened, but Graham maintains control of the song with a gentle pull and the various instruments and textures just heighten the anticipation. You can tell the band is influenced by the shoegazing outfits that were so popular in the 90’s, but instead of hitting you with a constant influx of heavy textures, they prefer to warm their sound with subtlety.

The wash that starts Beach Baby instantly transports you to the ocean, and the floating melody blows over you like a gentle breeze while you lie on the beach. The minimalism of the song matches the emotion it evokes perfectly and if at any point on this record you wanted to point out how Van Pelt is one of the only artists worthy of the inevitable Beach Boys comparison he will receive, it would have to be here. That vibe continues on the lush Little Trees and the spontaneous change into a foot stomping, tambourine clapping bridge is captivating.

The band doesn’t allow itself to get stuck in one riff, one sound. Tracks like Poetaster drift effortlessly into the straight ahead pop realm. The gentle traces of steel drum sounds that creep into the channels triggers an old Jane Says flashback (this is said without any sarcasm).

I’ve ignored this record way too long, and have a feeling it will be one I play to death and for that reason alone it’s a perfect showcase for the Canadian scene.
MP3:: Have You Seen in Your Dreams

web site :: myspace :: more mp3

Posted at 1:13 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Reviews:: The Coast

Sometimes a song just sparkles. The notes flicker beautifully like a flame, or a star filled sky. We are very late in the game, and to the four people that make up The Coast we issue an apology, but that description fits their debut EP to the letter. Their self-titled EP is a collection of expansive tapestries of sound that pays homage to a lot of bands from across the pond (the Verve and New Order are the ones that come to mind), but somehow never manages to sound forced or overproduced.

In fact, its the simplicity of the elements they create and how the come together that shows how much talent this band actually has. Instead of relying on rapid fire drums or syrupy, crunchy licks, The Coast prefers well constructed, soaring arrangements that sway effortlessly. All Farewells is a perfect starter for the EP. The simple, pleasant guitar and drums let you settle comfortably into the song before Spurr’s vocals take over. The band doesn’t bombard you with a haze of fuzzy guitars. Instead the song is almost weightless, floating along happily, completely contrasting the melancholy in which they lyrics exist.

Take a Walk Outside takes on a synth feel, but the band only uses guitar effects, a simple bouncy bass riff and the simple strummed acoustic that hovers in the distance to solidify the organic feel to the song. Maybe that’s why this EP grabbed me right away. Their music influences are bands I like and the elements seem familiar on the surface, but they are actually remarkably fresh. On The Lines Are Cut, the band uses a fuller mix, with crashing cymbals and beautiful distorted guitar interspersed with a gentle acoustic backbone. The slow, well constructed builds reveal another wrinkle to their song writing.

The thing I really love about this EP is that on the first few passes the songs appear to have come together so effortlessly, but when you really take time with the record you can hear the finishing touches the band puts into each song (like the subtle vocal distortion they add to the very end of All Farewells). On Harbour Lights, they use a U2 piano ballad as starting point, but take the time to add an electric undercurrent to thicken up the mix. That simple decision adds the needed element to change this from a Coldplay/Five For Fighting radio song into a great concert ending slow burner.

The Coast is playing their first Vancouver show @ the Lamplighter on July 16. From all accounts, their live show has a bit more edge and is well worth checking out.
MP3:: All Farewells

web site :: label :: myspace

Posted at 12:28 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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News:: Joel Finds Dave Boyd

Well, kind of. If you read my review of Joel Plaskett's latest album, Ashtray Rock, you know I was rather hyped to hear Fairview legend Dave Boyd receive not 1 but 2 shout outs from Joel. After the album came out I tried to find some info on what Dave was up to these days via Mr. Google, as I figured there was no way someone with the eccentric genius of Mr. Dave Boyd would be keeping cyber-quiet. But alas, Mr. G had nothing for me. No sign of Dave of Dave at all. Considering he ran for local political office on a platform that included sanctioning human-robot marriage, I found this surprising.

Well it turns out there was a reason why I found nada. It seems Dave had been posting a boatload of videos on the old you tube under the name Paul Fraser, aka Haywirecanada. I am a little concerned that I may be letting the crazy cat out of the bag here, but I figure Dave/Paul deserves all the press he can get, so he mind not mind the free publicity for his videos. And boy, are there videos. I strongly suggest you check them out. There are various diary updates (both with clothes and sans clothes), there are a few dedicated to internet hoax lonelygirl15, and there are a fine selection of blue screen gems that feature Dave/Paul doing various updates in front of random scenes which are strangely hypnotizing.

Most interesting is the latest video post, which finds Dave/Paul checking out the infamous Ashtray (Rock). Almost 10 minutes in length, it features Dave/Paul driving up to and around Northcliffe (the community centre where the path begins), walking down the path for minutes in winded silence, and then, once finally arriving at the spot, he films a smallish boulder and proclaims "there it is, the famous Ashtray Rock". Now I was told by an inside source, who claims to have named the infamous party spot, that in fact the proper name is simply "Ashtray" and that it wasn't named after a specific small boulder. But hey, who's the one getting his name mentioned in Joel's songs? If Dave/Paul says it's the Ashtray Rock, then it's the Ashtray rock.

Like I said, I couldn't find anything on Dave/Paul when I looked myself, but I was put up on Haywirecanada by Herohill co-founder Shawn Lapaix who received a tip from Joel himself. I knew there were plenty of people curious about Dave/Paul and the legend of Ashtray Rock, so I thought this video would help fill in some blanks. As Dave/Paul says, the Ashtray was a place where they used to go "party, drink, and play games". Play games? Who knew the kids from Clayton Park used to spend their Saturday nights in the woods playing Scattergories. This video also helps me fill in some blanks as it helps prove something I've known for years: Fairview kids are cooler than those from Clayton Park.

So enjoy the video and be sure to check out some of Dave/Paul's other videos as well. I did, and I noticed Dave/Paul went through some tough times for a while there, so I thought I'd leave him a little musical pick me up courtesy of his old friend Joel.

mp3:: The Joel Plaskett Emergency - Work Out Fine

Posted at 8:25 AM by naedoo :: 9 comments

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Reviews:: The Good, The Bad(ass), and The Agly

Ok. Back from Toronto, and had the chance to digest a few albums on the flights. Coincidentally, three of the records I gave a concerted listen to had an A in the band name. As a result, you get – The Good, The Bad(ass), and the Agly.

The Good – Art in Manilla :: Set the Woods on Fire
I’m a sucker for a powerful female voice and some 90’s rocking guitars with a bit of atmospheric swirl, so it makes sense I was on board with Orenda Fink’s new project. She’s the other half of the old band Azure Ray, and like Maria Taylor she’s created a strong new sound. She ranges nicely between ballads (Time Gets Us All & Golden Dawn), full out rockers (Our Addictions), and swirling folky-pop riffs (The Abomination & I Thought I Was Free). Like her former band mate, she’s not splitting the atom with the songs on this record, but she’s definitely creating enjoyable sounds. I challenge you not to like the subtle Spanish influence on Anything You Love or the surprisingly fresh take on the Les Savy Fav track - The Sweat Descends.
MP3:: Set the Woods on Fire

web site :: more mp3s

The Bad(ass) – Grand Archives :: Demos
Subpop and Rogue Wave recently agreed to just be friends. I know one man who probably took it harder than most. Little to my surprise, he tracked down a Sub Pop replacement act – Grand Archives. Fronted by former Band of Horses member, Mat Brooke, the band is going to make a lot of bloggers very, very happy. The 5-piece sound is rich in layered harmonies and soothing melodies, somehow fitting nicely into the gap between Zach Rogue’s summery, floating melodies, and the amazing Band of Horses rawkus, powerful, soaring anthems.

I could gush about these four songs, and I guess I will. Sleepdriving is a slow burner. It doesn’t try to do anything complex, and that is the reason it grabs you right away. The band finds the groove early, and lets it sink in. Southern Glass Home uses double tracked vocals and a foot stomping down south vibe to create a summer, modern (almost) AM radio feel. This song is going to make my best-of-summer mix, and be one I throw on anytime I get in the car and need to get out of traffic.

But, if I had to pick one of these songs that is going to be in movies and linked on the interweb early and often, it would be Torn Blue Foam Coach. Torn Blue Foam Couch is a perfect example of why this band is going to explode. It starts out with simple harmonies, but gradually builds into a powerful, dare I say epic, track with nice guitars and drums but never loses the falsetto vocals.

You can buy the CDR here – and I really think you should.
MP3:: Torn Blue Foam Coach

web site :: myspace

The Agly – Arizona :: Fameseeker and the Mono
Maybe agly is the wrong word, but as you open the new Arizona record, you are greeted by a sticker calling the band a “critically underappreciated band.” Well, with today’s music blogging environment, any “underappreciated band” becomes an “over appreciated band” overnight. It’s kind of the Ben Wallace (or this year – Matt Barnes) principle. Ben Wallace was a dude who couldn’t make a lay-up, but played like a terror and grabbed more boards than a construction clean-up crew. All of a sudden, sports journalists loved him, and his value blew up. He signed for mega loot, was consistently voted to the all-defensive team and really became a product of his own hype. His stats were good, but not great. He was just a player on a good team and didn’t heed Chuck D’s warnings. He started demanding more shots and now he’s an energy player that people undervalue. Where does his actual talent level sit – somewhere in the middle. It’s a viscous, fickle circle.

Enter Arizona. They are an ok band (and showed the promise that gets people talking), but they got hyped up by one of the biggest blogs (IGIF) and a great PR company (Team Clermont). It won’t surprise me in a few weeks when they are on every blog going. Already being compared to quirky pop outfits like the Flaming Lips and Of Montreal, I think the hype exceeds the output for this release. They are the Ben Wallace of Indie rock. Are there worse bands getting more credit? Absolutely. But like Ben was before jumping to the Bulls, Arizona are now being touted as the next great thing, and I don’t see it. Also like Ben Wallace, they really work better when they keep it simple, like the E. Smith-ish Midday Midnight or the ear catching, Beatles influenced Streetsweeper. The opening track Thimble might hit home for fans of quirky pop seekers, but I find it really disjointed and hard to enjoy. Overall, I’d say the record just kind of skips by with some enjoyable moments and just as many forgettable ones.
MP3:: Thimble

web site :: more mp3s

Posted at 12:55 PM by ack :: 8 comments

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Between the covers:: BTO vs. Bob Schneider

just a quick one to say happy belated Canada Day. I'm on my way to the airport, so it is quick and dirty. Yay Canada.

MP3:: Takin' Care of Business - BTO
MP3:: Takin' Care of Business - Bob Schneider

Posted at 2:47 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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Old School Mondays:: Main Source & The Dream Warriors

All righty, some of our non-Canadian readers might not be aware, but yesterday was Canada Day. It's the day we celebrate Canada's birthday, in this case number 140. But of course we celebrate it in a reserved, very polite manner. It wouldn't be Canadian to have a big splashy to-do like the Americans do for July 4th, but we still celebrate none the less. Anyway, we had a big Canada BBQ with plenty of people and babies at the house, so yours truly is rather tired today. Therefore I'll try and keep my rambling short.

Of course on the day after Canada Day, I had to have a Canadian angle for Old School Mondays. First up we have Main Source. As any Canadian hip hop fan, who was not in diapers in the early 90's, is no doubt aware, Main Source is comprised not only of legendary MC/producer Large Professor, but also DJ's, Sir Scratch and K-Cut, who were from Toronto. Considering Breaking Atoms is one of the finest albums of the Golden Age, that is certainly a top shelf Canadian connection. Next we have one of the pioneering Canadian hip hop groups, the Dream Warriors. Along with Maestro, these guys were one of the first groups in Canada to get any kind of major airplay.

mp3:: Main Source - Watch Roger Do His Thing
Really, I could've put up any song from Break Atoms, as it is stellar from top to bottom. In fact Ack and I enjoy that album so much there is a chance you could see the entire thing up here at some point. But I went with the classic Watch Roger Do His Thing mainly because the first time I heard of Main Source was via seeing this video on that Canadian institution, Muchmusic. But on top of that, the song is just great. From, the big drum loop and jazzy keys (played of course the infamous JD Drumsticks) to Large Pro's tale of Roger, a bookworm who parlays his love of studying and his job at a parking lot into a managerial position overseeing "8 banks". Really it's the kind of song that you only get from the early 90's. It's a shame they don't make them like this anymore. Of course there is also the classic outro where after a funked out keyboard solo, Large Pro says "my man JD Drumsticks get biz-zy, yo JD chill". Just great all around.

mp3:: Dream Warriors - My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style
The Dream Warriors were originally composed of MC's King Lou and Capital Q. Another mc, Spek, and DJ LA Luv were made official members of the group, but not until after And Now, The Legacy Begins, the album todays song comes from, was released. The Dream Warriors were a little abstract, especially for 1991, and I'll admit I wasn''t really a huge fan. But their jazzy style won them a nice size following inside and outside of Canada. I think this album sold quite well in the UK and Europe. Despite not being a huge fan, I always liked My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style and it's crazy bossa nova beat, which happened to sound like the theme song for Definition, a very cheesy, and very Canadian game show. This was because the song samples Soul Bossa Nova by Quincy Jones, which Definition used as it's theme song. Anyway, this song is very 90's and very Canadian, so enjoy.

Posted at 8:49 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Reviews:: Iron & Wine The Shepard's Dog

Can you be the same and completely different? That's the question I found myself asking as I listened to Sam Beam's latest record. His melodies, his verse structure - diction and dialog, they are the same. Religious metaphors and complex description of character are the structure of the album, but instead of a simple acoustic backbone, Sam and his band have greatly expanded their sound.

From the opening notes of Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car, you hear new elements in the arrangements. Electric guitar, heavy percussion, piano all balance off Sam's trademark vocals and acoustic guitar. These sound evolve through the entire record - the Indian influence that starts White Tooth Man, the vocoder-ish techniques on Carousel, the hand claps and drum rimmed clack of the lead single, Boy With a Coin - these all show how much playing with Calexico influenced the band and helped beef up the sound Sam wants to play.

But you can't say he's changed. The melody and sounds he delivers on Lovesong of the Buzzard or Resurrection Fern will warm the heart of any long time fan, he just seems to add something in places he once ignored. Innocent Bones is one of the best songs he's ever delivered. I just think it will take people time to settle into the new groove he seems to have embraced fully. Considering he's written song after song with a simple acoustic, the off-kilter violin, frantic accordion, piano noodles and heavy plucked stand-up bass ring out like rifle shots.

Personally, I really like the new direction, but happily sway through the traditional riffs he throws in on songs. A simple (and probably inaccurate) analogy would be how Simon and Garfunkel songs still sound fantastic, but Simon's jump into a more worldy sound was quite welcome to his fans. Will it appeal to the Iron & Wine purists? I'm not sure, but I'm quite happy to tag along for this new adventure.
MP3:: Lovesong for the Buzzard - live

web site :: label :: myspace :: more mp3s

Posted at 1:36 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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