Friday, May 22, 2009

Reviews:: Black Heart Brigade Fathers

The new EP – Fathers - from Brampton’s Black Hat Brigade is good. Before we get into this, I just want to make sure people realize that, because what comes next is might sound negative and almost stopped me from reviewing this EP.

BHB is not Wolf Parade, nor are they as good as one of Canada’s best bands. The highs aren't as high and the lows are lower. Yes, vocally the songs may sound similar, but aside from that and a few keyboard augmented, apocalyptic riffs, I don’t think the bands are making the same kind of music. Certainly the constant comparisons aren't doing the young Brampton upstarts any favors. I know I said the same thing last time around, but I think it is even more on Fathers.

Which brings me to my next point… I don’t think the band wants to (or should have to) constantly deal with the comparison. If you put another vocalist on these songs I don’t think we’d be fixated on the sound and certainly constantly slating seasoned vets to upstart rookies is questionable. While the "other band" tours the world, graces the pages of stereogum, pitchfork and whatever publications aren’t left begging readers for cash to send out another month’s issue, BHB are playing local shows and filling opening slots.

They aren’t "there" yet and who knows, maybe they never will be, but they show the potential and it’s going to be a lot easier for them to reach it if we all stop putting unneeded pressure and expectations on them. You always here of tragedies that force a young person to grow up too soon and miss out on the best part of life, and honestly, for a band that is getting out, playing shows making fans and stretching their creative legs.

People in their twenties and start a band should be about getting drunk and writing songs, some of which are embarrassing only months down the road. They should be getting excited about buying a shitty van and driving across the province, wondering if people will show up and whose floor they’ll be sleeping on. More importantly, they should be about finding the sound they want to grow with the band and that’s BHB is moving towards with Fathers.

People should be talking about the maturity they show, preferring restraint to recklessness ... or the patient builds and control of pace … or the confidence and whimsy the band shows as they stomp through the murder ballad, Signal Fire … or the surging power of Castlevania. You get the idea. There’s a lot of good things going on in these 6 songs (and two quick hitters), and a lot more to think about than another band they might sound like. But, if you need an easy jump off point and some reassurance, you can just fixate on that one point.

MP3:: Black Hat Brigade - Castlevania

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Reviews:: Royal City

It's hard to hear Aaron Riches sing, “here comes success” on the opening track of the new self-titled, b-side collection and not wonder what could have been when it comes to Guelph super group Royal City. You get overwhelmed with thoughts like, "what if the music biz of 2009 was around in 2001" or "what if geography wasn't an issue."

I’m not going to rehash the story of the band from the Royal City – long time friend and Exclaim assistant editor Vish Khanna puts the history in much more meaningful context - but the talent, catalog and story behind the band was better suited for today's world of bloggers and computer recordings than that of a traditional band.

With the rotating cast of band members – that included Bob Wiseman, Feist and Owen Pallett – grainy youtube videos of unexpected lineups would have been passed around from blog to blog. People would have showed up for every show, trading rumor after rumor about who was going to show up and play.

I heard Feist was in NY last night. That’s only a two hour drive and she’s got no shows left! She could be here! So could Lawr!

Really, they could have been like a folkier take on BSS if people had just cared more. There’s no denying the talent, and maybe if the band had made just a bit more cash doing what they did - the type they might have got after a possible Best New Music plug for 2001's landmark release, Alone at the Microphone- they could have kept recording even as the kilometers between each member increased. What could have been… but wasn’t. Nathan moved on to do other things, so did Jim. Andrew moved to the UK and went back to school. Simon got a real job. In the end, what they did and where they ended up doesn’t really matter much. The past is the past, and all that is left to do is romanticize it.

The records they created in a few short years still stand up and this collection of outtakes and session recordings that just didn’t make the cut is the perfect end for a band that was ahead of it’s time. What’s the expression? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Their throwaways, like the playful take on the Strokes classic Is this It?, the serene, lo-fi bliss of I Called But You Were Sleeping and the general merriment (and Badly Drawn Boy feel – you know, when Damon pulls back and surprises you with straight ahead melody and goodness) of A Belly Was Made For Wine could all be the highlight of a lesser band’s career. Can't You Hear Me Calling could stand up against the material on The Creek Drank the Cradle and not be the glaring underdog.

Instead the 12-songs are tossed together for a post-humous record for a band that that never got the credit it deserved and will probably be slept on by everyone other than the most devout fans. But as you here these songs and read Vish’s words, you remember what it’s like to stumble on a band that changes who you are and what you think. A band that speaks to you, even if no one else takes the time to listen.

MP3:: Royal City - A Belly Was Made For Wine

MP3:: Royal City - Can't You Hear Me Calling

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reviews:: Jon Epworth Turn Off Your Name

Jon Epworth knows the size of the room he’s destined to play and the life he wants to lead. That might seem obvious considering the years that he's spent playing shows and touring, but the delusions of grandeur that plague musicians is often what alienates their fans. Writing soaring anthems and vicious political commentary for the masses when you are playing empty rooms creates a distance that sound and melody can never cover.

When Passing Chords creeps out of the gate and Jon admits, “I'm a small cog on a smaller set of gears and perhaps we'll reach a few handfuls of ears / but won't you listen to my pretty passing chords / I'm a no-one in an empty room yeah I should give up and go to bed real soon / but won't you listen to my pretty passing chords”, he puts himself along side us and starts a discussion.

Which is good, because he's got a lot to say that we really need to hear.

I'll admit, hearing a musician tell us the world is fucked up is nothing new, but hearing one so grounded and eloquent is. Epworth isn't preaching at us about things we can't control, he simply wants us all to look inside, figure out how things got so bad and how we can make it better. He doesn't offer up false promises or hope, because really, he's doesn't have any of the answers we need. He's looking, just like us.
i can't promise anything to anyone at anytime but i want you all to love me/ I can't think of everything for everyone all of the time but I want you all to trust me.
Nervous, sympathetic, angry, scared, insecure... Turn Off Your Name shows that Epworth is all of these things, and more.

That freedom lets Jon move between styles and try whatever idea comes into his brain. He's able to drift from a Wainright inspired number (Golden Age) into frantic, spastic blasts of guitar and emotion (The Beaten Down and Cities) without losing the listener. He can bust out a touching, soulful number (Long Way Down) or a cruncher like A Cormorant, and lace both with insight and observation. Even when he's at his most catchy (The Driven), he's not singing about bar room conquests or crafting another road trip anthem. The song is asking a friend to keep fighting, keep pushing and never give up. And today, with everything else going on, someone asking us to push on and keep fighting is exactly what we need.

Jon is having his CD release party @ The Paragon here in Halifax on June 6th.

MP3:: Jon Epworth - Long Way Down

MP3:: Jon Epworth - Cities

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Contest:: Dog Day 2 - Concentrationboogalo (vinyl + tix)

That's right folks... another Dog Day contest, which we shall cleverly dub, Concentrationboogalo. Unlike Breakin' II though, this one involves no dancing on the ceiling and we not break hard enough to save the rec centre from closing. Instead of raising cash, we're just here to give shit away.

Two lucky winners the chance to win a copy of the freshly printed vinyl edish of Concentration and tickets to a show in any city on their cross-Canada tour. Not only that, the band was nice enough to send over another legal MP3 for us to give away. Not too shabby for a Friday AM y'all.

Concentration has been picking up speed and grabbing some great reviews along the way, so don't miss out our your chance to see a great band and get a nice piece of acetate for your collection. All you have to do is email us (herohill AT gmail DOTCOM) or drop a comment telling us how nice we are for giving away free stuff. Like Black Sheep told us, the choice is yours.

Here are the dates:
8 May Hunter’s Charlottetown, Prince Edward
9 May Akhord Saint John, New Brunswick
10 May Struts Gallery Sackville, New Brunswick
24 May North Street Church Halifax, Nova Scotia
27 May Casbah Hamilton, Ontario
28 May Lee’s Palace Toronto, Ontario
29 May the Green Room Montreal, Quebec
30 May Zaphod Beeblebrox Ottawa, Ontario
4 Jun the Apollo Thunder Bay, Ontario
5 Jun Royal Albert Winnipeg, Manitoba
6 Jun Amigo’s Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
10 Jun Pawn Shop Edmonton, Alberta
11 Jun Broken City Calgary, Alberta
12 Jun Habitat Kelowna, British Columbia
13 Jun Lucky Bar Victoria, British Columbia
14 Jun Biltmore Vancouver, British Columbia

MP3:: Dog Day - Stray

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Reviews:: Luke Ryalls This City

Six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Man, how annoying is that reference all these years later? It might be even more played out than saying something "jumped the shark" or calling someone the "poor-mans someone else." (Note: if you are going to say something is played out, just point people to the classic line from Rodney O & Joe Cooley and mention "x" is like getting socked in the grill.)

As much as I'd like to let KB fade to black, when it comes to DIY indie rock bands, members are passed around like 40’s of malt liquor and if you look hard enough, like Kevin Bacon's film listings, you can always find a tie-in. Case in point, I would have never stumbled on Luke Ryalls if I hadn’t recognized his name from the steel guitar he added to the Maybe Smith EP back in the day.

That might not be the best jump off point for his musical career but it might be the one people gravitate towards. Sure, I could have mentioned that he’s the lead singer/guitarist of the SK band The Fjords, but I’m not sure how many people have even heard of the band, let alone who can name the key members, so it would be like asking people to figure out how Madoff’s Ponzi scheme worked.

Unnecessary preamble and back story completed.

Let’s talk about Luke. Taking a step back from the bar rock anthems The Fjords preferred, he holed himself up in a makeshift home studio with his acoustic, started writing and recording. The end result is the somber, stripped down roots effort This City. Honestly, "this city" could be any city. Ryalls songs are simple strums and the honest emotions we’ve all felt. Even when he adds backing vocals, atmospheric undercurrents or slight percussion (like the closing track, Afraid Of The City And The Night), you get caught up in his voice and realize that these are the type of songs you’d expect to here from a man on a stool in a quiet, dark bar.

The pace of the record rarely varies; the plodding pace of the journey seems to be as much a part of the songs as the inflection and emotion that creep into Ryall’s voice when times get the hardest and the memories cut the deepest. The twist, if there is one, is that Luke seems to take the approach that life is suffering, but you just have to keep going. As the strums of Standing Beside Us start pounding and he admits "that all you can do is keep living" or that, "I swear I did my best" on the opening number Swing Low, you escape the alienation and depression that plagues most people dabbling in these types of confessionals and realize Luke doesn't want it to be trapped in the greys.

Admittedly, you could say that Ryall’s songs are nothing new; point out the emotions are essential to the solo acoustic singers arsenal and style has been tried – for better or worse – countless times for countless years. But when you start feeling the emotion and desolation he often sings about, you realize that you can tie his events back to moments in your past and find the link between his life and yours. Kevin Bacon indeed.

MP3:: Luke Ryalls - Swing Low

MP3:: Luke Ryalls - Standing Beside Us

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Reviews:: The Lovely Feathers Fantasy of the Lot

A few years ago, the debut LP from The Lovely Feathers landed in my mailbox and I have to say – despite the shoddy quality of an almost pointless post - I really enjoyed the frantic, herky jerk energy they delivered on Hind Hind Legs. Sure, you could have pointed out (and some critics did) how they sounded like a PatrickSurtain group of Canadian indie icons – *cough The Unicorns * cough – but the songs were full of humor, sarcasm, and joy.

Unfortunately, over the next couple of years, The Lovely Feathers got lost in the shuffle. Even after opening for the biggest names in the Can-indie scene and getting praise from all of the major publications, the Montrealers disappeared. They weren’t driving a cab in Baltimore like Capadonna, but they might as well have been (or selling poutine or working at Club Super Sex if you want to make this more Montreal related) as far as fans were concerned. In today’s disposable age, we quickly dismiss bands that are still out their touring and writing, so imagine what happens to a band on hiatus? Basically, except for You Aint Picasso, the blog-world forgot about them. If this was 2007 or 2008, I would have been giddy waiting for the promo copy to arrive, but as it is, I almost missed the email when I did the quick scan of the inbox.

Obviously I didn’t and I’m happy to let readers know that The Lovely Feathers are back with a new record. Fantasy of the Lot is hitting the street on June 2nd and you get the impression that time and the frustrations they faced getting this record finished impacted the record... positively. We’ve seen other versions of some of these songs over the last few years, but the final versions seem much more thought out. Sure they are still full of ear pleasing synth tones, guitar and quirky vocals (That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone), but the maturity that the band shows might be and it makes the tracks more controlled and structured. A perfect example is Agrotaker, chock o' block full of energy, stabbing guitar and synths but the band rides the melody nicely and as a result the song never teeters on the brink of insanity like you might expect.

And honestly, I’m glad. The frantic pace and odd transitions that made HHL so appealing three years ago probably would have fallen short this time around. Instead, the band shows that they can evolve; older, wiser without letting go of the elements that made them so appealing. Even on the surging single, Lowiza, the band seems more sure in their song writing. The protagonist – Jim - is trapped in a marriage devoid of sexual passion, but instead of frustration and melancholy you expect, The Lovely Feathers execute a sophisticated build.

The record offers a more level pace, but one that is more enjoyable. Instead of a few songs that dominate your playlist the band offers up a record that demands a complete listen. The record is full of scintillating synth pop, and still offers up some sure fire hits - Finders Fee, Ossified Homes )which may or may not have been called Rusty in demo form?) and Long Walks (the one song I feel they truly let loose on) got stuck in my brain - but the songs seem to have grown up like many of the band’s listeners. Family that Doesn't Know the Game teases an explosion of sound, but the quick-hitting finishes up without a climax and leads nicely into the subdued title track. Even the big surges on Gifted Donald seem more polished, shedding the angst of youth for the clarity you get as you grow older.

Fantasy of the Lot was a long time in the making. Life happened - good and bad - but the band came through it all with a more grounded perspective and a stronger sound because of it.

MP3:: The Lovely Feathers - Lowiza

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Quick Hitters:: Grey Anne

So here’s another American singer with a Canadian tie-in. Genetic roots as it turns out. Anne Adams – aka Grey Anne – is a Portland singer and daughter of two Canadians. Hell, some Canadians I know can't even claim that.

Probably more relevant is that she’s been known to pal around Portland with some terrific artists that have graced herohill on several occasions. Blossoming as part of the remarkable Anacortes folk scene, Anne has played with Karl Blau and is friendly with the Anonymous Monk crew and although her solo work is more layered than many of the folky acts I’ve fallen for in the past, it’s no less impressive.

Apparently, Facts n Figurines took Anne 5 years to record, but the songs don’t seem dated at all. Despite the solitude of tracks like Rebirth, it seems like Anne prefers experimenting with bigger arrangements, loops, and assembling basic folk building blocks into an interesting mix of almost folk inspired theatre. The random percussion clanks, hand claps and double tracked vocals on (Adelaide) help transform her sound into more of a performance, where as the bass kick and psychedelics she throws into the Ghost Bees-like swirl of the opening track (Golden Ratio) completely unsettles the listener and changes the vibe of the track.

What really impresses me about this release is the subtle shift in sounds. She plays with feedback and distortion (Trying) and hip-hop back beats (mixed nicely with an accordion on Riddle) without losing the overall feel of the record. She can even jump into the jazzy slink of Flapjack Devilfish Flies Again but throughout all of the changes the one central point of focus is her voice. I have the feeling she could sit on stage and sing a cappella and we’d still be equally entertained.

MP3:: Grey Anne - Riddle

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American Bands with Canadian Names:: Auld Lang Syne

I already know what you are going to say. "Herohill, you’re always talking about how Canadian you are. What’s the deal with you fakes jumping south of the border?" Well, today – the second post will come later – we are talking about two bands that reached out to us and alerted us of their Canadian tie-ins.

First up are herohill favs, Auld Lang Syne. Based in Rochester, this outfit is one-fifth Canadian like most tech companies in the US and the Phoenix Suns starting line-up (and I don’t hear any Canadians distancing themselves from Nash and his brood). In typical hill-nonsense fashion, this will probably be the only time you will hear Auld Lang Syne and the fast breaking Suns in the same sentence, as the quintet from upstate NY tends to move at a much slower pace, but don't mistake that for laziness or relaxation. Every note the band plays is treated like it could be their last.

Honestly, everything about Auld Lang Syne shows a great appreciation for music and you get the feeling the band cherishes the fact they get the chance to jump on stage and sing. Their debut LP – Midnight Follies – is one of the nicest packages you’ll stumble across. Beautiful artwork, hand lettered track listings, and page after page of photos; the NYers put their heart and soul into this record. But more importantly, the songs are terrific.

Whether it's an intense country rocker or a slow burning ballad, as soon as they start to play, you are consumed by their intensity. They explode out of the gate with a frantic number (Long Number) that hits you in the mouth, the quickly move to the body and attacks the most susceptible organ… your heart. Rusty Prayer barely gets past walking pace thanks to the keep time drums, steel and piano notes, but Dick’s weary vocals and swells of harmonica build slowly and confidently. You feel like you are part of the experience, as if the band is reliving each painful emotion in front of you, unable to let it go.
Our songs are rooted in the places where we were born & raised, & the places we’ve been grafted onto since, & the people & things we’ve seen & cannot forget. We work to make them simple & truthful, & work to make them sweet in the ears of anyone who needs them, whether their luck’s been good & stayed good, or their traveling’s been hard.
After reading Timothy’s description of their work, I’m not sure I needed to write any of my own thoughts on their work. It’s painfully obvious where their songs come from and what they mean to the band. Family, home, memories, and pain: these aren’t the type of things that you cram into singles or cut short just to make it easier to digest. No, ALS knows if a song takes nine-minutes to say what it needs to say, well, so be it. They’d be cheating the emotion they felt writing it by trying to lighten the load for all of us. The barely audible, multi-layered vocals that move slowly alongside the smoldering guitar work of Greasy Horse should warm the soul of any Kozalek fan, but the nicely executed build and instrumentation that kicks in after the song breaks the 5-minute mark is breathtaking.

Even the single - My First Soul - breaks the 8-minute mark. The acoustic and harmonica could be found floating on any porch you happen to stumble on, but from the outset, Timothy’s gruff vocals push the song forward. The drum that echoes in the distance gives the song a powerful heartbeat, but it’s the simple truth of the chorus that gets you. “It’s not like it used to be.” I know they add in some nice swirling group vocals to change up the tempo, but if you aren't inspired by the singular focus of those seven words, I'm not sure what to say. Normally an eight-minute song is full of wasted notes and pointless ideas, but every second on My First Soul seems as important as the one before it and the one that follows.

It quickly becomes obvious that ALS don’t need hooks or choruses to keep you interested. The can follow some of their most spirited numbers with gospel like confessionals (Four Rivers) without losing any of the energy they build so patiently. I know with the rise in popularity of The Avetts (who the band is playing a few shows with later this year) is going to help get the band some attention - so is the Avettsesque melody that starts Where My Fortune Lies - but this band deserves to be heard and loved for the strength of their songs. If you can't close your eyes and feel the sway of the crowd on the powerful Red Feather, I'm not sure why you are reading music blogs. That song, like this band, is one you hold close to your heart.

MP3:: Auld Lang Syne - My First Soul

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Reviews:: On Film Covers EP

It's no secret we here at the hill are homers. We'll tell anyone that will listen - and judging by our stats, it seems that's not many - that NS music can hold it's own with any other area in Canada. We've been putting out terrific music for years, and even after a little downturn a few years back, the NS music scene is stronger than it's ever been. Countless artists are getting national attention, but I want to put our shine on a local label that consistently puts out solid releases with little to no fanfare.

The label? Noyes Records (home to Kestrels, The Got to Get, Medium Mood, Memories Attack... oh, and of course Tomcat Combat) and thanks to a surprise email, I was recently introduced to another act that calls the Truro shop home. On Film is the bedroom project of Michael MacLellan, and his creaky folk should warm the heart of any home recording, folk-ie guitar slinger. He’s going to be releasing a full length later this year, but to get everyone ready he released a series of stripped down, grainy covers (title? Covers, natch) on a free CD-R EP.

Opening with the ever popular Fight Test, Michael gives everyone a quick trip around his influences and preferred sounds. The familiar strums give way to his cracking falsetto and honestly, it makes you remember how great the Lips used to be before the theatrics became the biggest focus. MacLellan’s solo take is emotion charged, and the solitutde of the recording works really well. The tracks he chooses to fill out the EP are more surprising. Pulling out a quick hitting, gem from Paul Simon’s self-titled release (Papa Hobo - one of my favorite Simon tunes) and reworking Melissa Etheridge’s tender piano ballad, The Weakness in Me are not your everyday cover choices, but the lo-fi crackle gives the songs the required depth and really opens up Michael to the listener.

The only “new” song is Amy Winehouse’s You Know I'm No Good. Replacing the soulful arrangement and booming voice with nothing more than guitar strums makes the song seem even more desperate (which is pretty amazing considering the original singer’s current state). I’ve never been a fan of guitar reworkings of Top 40 hits, but when someone throws together a free EP of covers, it’s hard to look down your nose at the artist’s decision to just do something fun.

Long story short, this 4-song CD-R isn’t going to change the world. People have been four-tracking covers since the dawn of time, but the songs help get you familiar with On Film and keep you entertained. Considering the company MacLellan keeps and the quick glance at his style Covers provides, it’s hard not to get a bit excited about his upcoming full length.

MP3:: On Film - You Know I'm No Good

MP3:: On Film - The Weakness in Me

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reviews:: Braids Set Pieces

Remember ’08? In blog years I might as well be talking about '87, but even a few months ago people collectively lost their shit about Bug, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes and The Hold Steady. For me, it was all about The Rural Alberta Advantage, Chad VanGaalen and of course, Women/Azeda Booth. Considering how much I loved Azeda Booth (review), it’s really surprising I never bother to check out fellow Calgarians and myspace compadres, Braids.

Even with opening spots for Pitchfork poster children Deerhunter and being a “band to watch” on Stereogum, Braids – originally named The Neighbourhood Council – still fly under the radar. You’d think with the tender age – most are just hitting 20 now (almost a year after the release of the EP) – and the bold ambition of Set Pieces, the critics would be salivating. Despite being recorded live at a radio station, the slow building epics (three of the five songs top the 7-minute mark) show the maturity and understanding required for a band to blossom into something great.

Opening an EP with a 9-minute track is a bold choice for any band, but for a new band recording their first song it’s downright brazen. And honestly, that confidence really made me want to like this band even more. Liver and Tan shows considerable control of pace, tempo and surprising restraint. Akin to young teens having sex, new bands often jackhammer away and climax after a few minutes, leaving the other party unsatisfied. Braids shows patience at an early age, letting the listener move with the changes in melody and pace. The simple guitar that opens the track grabs you, priming you for something big but the band plays with you as the bring the song to an almost standstill before executing a fantastic three minute build filled with atmospheric tones, gentleness and dueling vocals that crash over you in waves. You want to break into full stride but they don’t let you. They push forward slowly, confidently, daring you to rush ahead and leave them behind.

Instead of playing it safe, Braids forces you to listen for every second of their 5-song EP. You might not agree with every note, but you certainly don’t drift off into complacency. The crystalline texture that starts She Brace Soul gives way to tribal drums, hammered piano line and more staccato vocals. It’s frantic and primal, but the band quickly retreats again, returning to the . The playful groove of Marlin demonstrates a keen sense of melody, but instead of simply riding out the wave the band uses static noise and tortured vocals to derail the track. The experimentation might not work for everyone, but it shows that Braids is already much more than a few well placed drums and guitar chords.

I’m late to the party on this, but the band (now in Montreal) has said that recording has started for a full length. I’m excited to hear the new music, but more curious as to what directions they will run.

MP3:: Liver and Tan

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Reviews:: The Divorcees Last of the Free Men

People on the internet (bloggers) love to talk about how the way music is made and consumed now pushes bands into the spotlight way too early. For me, the real problem is that the comforts of the internet allow bands to sell records/MP3 (and build a blog-base) without having to hit the road.

Taking the time to tour and find out how to flesh out your demos is crucial, and without that seemingly obvious step those unpolished demos become an EP, and what should have been your EP becomes pre-mature album. The cycle never stops and sure the never ending torrent of music satisfies the immediacy we crave, but it doesn’t let the band grow or fine-tune their sound.

Thankfully, The Divorcees hit the pavement long and hard. Their new record - Last Of The Free Men - is a collection of songs that grew organically during countless shows and miles in the van and thanks to the relatively hands-off approach of Josh Finlayson, they capture that energy on tape. Considering the huge shift in the working dynamic for this record, the tightness the outlaws offer up is remarkable (not to get into it, but Jason Haywood left the band mid-tour and Alex Madsen stepped in as vocalist). Last of the Free Men is who they are and that’s why the country tracks feel sincere, not like someone slapped some steel onto a guitar track and claimed Willie, Waylon and Merle as lifelong influences.

Make no mistake; The Divorcees are a country band. Not alt-country and not any sort of hybrid. They won’t get a pass from punkers and indie fans for creative subject matter (like Corb). Instead, the Moncton band sticks to tried and true sounds and subjects, but unlike 90% of the bands doing the same thing, these guys get it right. Beat up cars (My 83), drinking (God Damn That Bottle), hanging with the boys and getting over life, love and luck. They are all covered here, but without any irony that plagues music these days. The same can be said for their country fried take on AC/DC’s Shoot to Thrill. Instead of another hokey country cover - Dynamite Hack, I'm looking at you), The Divorcees pay tribute to a band they love. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I’ve never met any of these guys, but I’d be shocked if each one of them didn’t own beat up cowboy boots and a closet full of wranglers and I’d wager they aren’t the type to refuse a drink, but with tracks like the soulful After the Storm is Gone (that shows Alex and herohill fav, Angela Desveaux trading vocals beautifully), the fantastic story of My Boys or the sunny saunter of When I Say you see there is more to their songs than just having a good time. Chances are though, if you see them play live that's just what you will have.

After that glowing review you are probably wondering when you can see these boys tear it up. Well, for any of our Halifax readers, tomorrow is the CD release party @ The Seahorse.

MP3:: The Divorcees - My '83

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Reviews:: The CFL Sessions

There is probably nothing as Canadian, or as confusing as Canadian football. Where to start with the CFL? The insane rules, incredibly huge field, medicine ball sized football, the fact two teams in an eight team league had the same name and, of course the distinct lack of talent (read more about my hatred here), let's just say the CFL is no friend of mine.

Even with my distaste for the tradition of Canadian football, it seems there is one area the CFL dominate their counterparts south of the border: music. Sure, we all got excited seeing the Fridge and Willie Gault freak the funk on the SuperBowl Special, and don’t get me started on Prime to the Hammer, Hammer to the Prime or the redneck charm of Hank Williams telling us about his rowdy friends, but for the most part there hasn’t been a huge amount of tracks coming from NFL-ers.

Now, thanks to the tireless work of folklorist Henry Adam Svec, we have a fully restored version of the legendary CFL Sessions that were captured in the 1970s by the late Canadian folklorist Staunton R. Livingston. The songs were the best of the best, with CFL players performing original tracks and spirited covers that were played in locker rooms and bars after the games. Svec retreated to the House of Miracles and with the support of Canadian notables WL Altman, Laura Barrett, Andy Magoffin and Jeseka Hickey, he recreated the efforts as best he could. The result is an interesting glimpse into the past freshened with a new coat of paint. More importantly, musically this record kicks it like Lui Passaglia.

Without the large contracts and stardom of other professional sporting leagues, Canadian football is a seasonal occupation akin to tree planting or landscaping. The stark honesty of simple admissions like, "in the offseason I work at the mall. I sell shoes" or "I could drink all night in this city, if we had any money" really hammer home the fact a lot of these players play simply for the love of the game.

Central theme and cohesion aside, the songs are enjoyable even out of context. The songs focus on the sadness of the CFL athlete, but could just as easily be about the working class. I think Svec made a smart choice using lighter melodies and not letting depression dominate the recordings. The quick burst of pace on Life is Like Canadian Football or the jangle-y guitar that dances along in surprisingly catchy, Song Written Upon Getting Cut by the Argos keep you listening. Another uptempo ditty, On Play lets Svec show off his more playful side and even the campfire feel of CFL Seasons in the Sun is more enjoyable than you'd expect. Long story short, while the CFL sessions may not get me excited for the upcoming season, it is an enjoyable listen (especially considering it's free).

MP3:: CFL Sessions - Song Written Upon Getting Cut by the Argos

MP3:: CFL Sessions - Life is Like CFL Football

PS - If you are still buying the historical accuracy of this project, I have a Sidd Finch rookie card on auction on EBay you might want to get in on.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reviews:: Caledonia We Are America

We Are America. Three simple words that force thoughts and emotions to run through the mind of any Canadian citizen. The world’s a fucked up place, there’s no doubt about that, but all too often we push the blame onto our neighbor to the South. The economy? Not our fault! The environment? Even though we are doing worse at meeting our Kyoto commitments, its the mega consumers and greed of the US killing our world!

We can often be heard stripping the humor (and originality) from the memorable South Park bit as we chant along with the angry mob – “blame Dubya! ” I’m pretty sure Caledonia didn't specifically wanted to move towards politically charged tracks, but there is no doubt they wanted us to start looking inward. The record is a collection of personal songs, chock full of heavy subject matter coming from the experiences of each band member. As opposed to nationalistic pride or delusion, Caledonia focuses on the events that rip us all apart; death, growing older, uncertainty, leaving home and wanting nothing more than to return.

Thankfully, Caledonia’s cases these deep and dark thoughts in a collection of ambitious hooks, atmospheric undercurrents and a melting pot of influences. Whether it’s the reggae hook of The Victim, the gradual dissipation of the taut precision that begins Burning The Day or the sonic journey the band travels on guitar heavy, keyboard jams like Same Old Lies or , Caledonia refuses to stand still. Even when they force a driving anthem down your gullet (Friday Night Rock Song or the powerful opener Restless Year - which features the best opening line of any record - "The art fag in me is restless...") or an inspired spoken word (courtesy of Halifax’s own Tanya Davis) there is an emotional density waiting just below the surface on almost every track that leaves you pleasantly off balance.

If I was looking for a jump off point, I’d point you to Califone or The Fembots and talk about how effortlessly they all splice melodies with sound fragments and static, but with such a personal feel to the record, forcing a RIYL tag on We Are America seems like a bit of a slap in the face. The exhaustive sigh the band releases on the perfectly titled I’m Tired is thickened with subtle strings and steel that dance in the background, but it shouldn't be able to stand beside the staccato drum machine beat and guitar noodle that backs Tanya's words, which in turn, shouldn’t be able to stand beside the spacey rock Light Rock Station. But as you listen you realize the transitions – and as a result, the album – are seamless and inviting.

Caledonia will be shredding the stage here in Halifax at the Paragon Theatre on May 29th. Make sure you show up early, as Paper Beat Scissors is going to play a few songs and that is not to be missed.

MP3:: Caledonia - We Are America


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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Quick Hitters:: Angela Desveaux If Ever I Loved EP

Man. What a nice surprise. It's no secret we love Montreal based Angela Desveaux here on herohill. The Mighty Ship cracked our Top 20 last year and finding out she has a new 7" (with three additional downloads) fixing to come out is great news.

For those only familiar with Desveaux's latest work, If Ever I Loved will expose a much more traditional, East Coast sound. The songs - the b-side (Wedding Song) to the vinyl and the last of the additional downloadable tracks (Carolina Ways) appeared, albeit in different form, on her debut EP that used the same cover art - are laced in mandolin and fiddle and explore the classic theme of lost love.

As much as I love her last effort, the pure country feel and shimmering harmonies she introduces on You To Remind Me make it my favorite song she's ever recorded. There's not a bad song on the EP, but the biggest surprise on the record is the country-fried take on the Wing's classic Let Me Roll In. Stripping out the plucked bass and smoothing out some of the truncated guitar blasts, Desveaux and her band soften the song without sacrificing the emotion or the power of the chorus. The gentle shift in sound makes the song much more appealing, at least in my humble opinion.

If Ever I Loved is limited to 500 copies, so if you are they type of person that collects vinyl, I'd get to stepping. These won't last long and are a must-have.

MP3:: Angela Desveaux - If Ever I Loved

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Reviews:: Woodland Telegraph Sings Revival Hymns #1

One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen on either of my drives across the country is the area at the base of the Rocky Mountains. When you leave Calgary and keep heading west, the Rockies start to creep into view and with each turn of the odometer, they become more commanding.

Despite the huge shadow cast by the majestic stone walls staring at you proudly, the awe you feel is suppressed by the unbridled sense of joy and incredible relaxation that takes over your body as you watch the Kananaskis River meander lazily beside you and come face to face with herds of Rocky Mountain sheep and deer that believe they have as much right to be there as you.

I lived there for a while and at the time I really only listened to punk rawk and The Beastie Boys, but if I could have grabbed Doc Brown’s DeLorean and flux capacitor-ed ahead 2009, I think the new record from Woodland Telegraph - Sings Revival Hymns #1 - would have been a regular staple. Like the region itself, the influence of the mountains is unmistakable, but there is something more relaxed and jubilant about Matthew Lovegrove's songs.

When the banjo starts on On the Way & What We Found, you expect the feverish energy and foot stomps of a murder ballad or run in with the devil to be close on its heels. Instead, you get hit with uplifting harmonies that remove any of the weight and loneliness that often bogs down the genre and instead are hit with a refreshing dose of nostalgic bliss. Don’t get me wrong, Lovegrove isn’t looking back wondering if his best days are already behind him, he’s simply looking back because of the history and power the mountains stand for.

The rest of the record is equally successful, partly because of the accessibility of the roots anthems – the subtle accents of atmospheric folk, pop and just enough bite ( Flood those Spirits and Deadman’s Flat) to keep you from OD-ing on the pleasantries of the output - but more so because of the accessibility of the ideals. These are songs about Canada, built on open ended lyrics about time and place and time tested sounds. The alienation of a man looking out and seeing a light miles away is a desolation that has been covered by author’s for years – the whole record feels like Lovegrove’s own personal Big Sur – but he substitutes depression for clarity. Matthew’s thoughts are crisp and filled with hope, as are the arrangements that back them.

On tracks like Oil City Hotel, beautiful strings fill out the mix, but the band isn’t trying to add tension or drama. Woodland Telegraph opts to let the picked banjo and strings roam (and soar) and you quickly settle into the listen and want it to repeat over and over. It’s the feeling you get when you get out on the open road. It’s a pensive, inspired gaze across the vast openness that is the Midwest of Canada. Most importantly though, it’s fantastic music.

MP3:: Woodland Telegraph - Mountain Road

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Quick Hitters:: Save September

The best plans often go to waste… at least here on herohill. You see, with the re-launch and the unveiling of our new Halifax show listing calendar, I had the perfect segue to introduce you all to a nice song writer from our fair city. You see, Save September – aka Crissi Cochrane – was set to open up for Owen (read our interview with Mike here) at St. Matthew’s Church.

I've been a fan of almost every incarnation of Mike Kinsella's music, but the stripped down, personal tracks he wrote under the Owen moniker were my favorite. The chance to play with Mike would have been a great launching pad for Crissi - especially since she was practicing with a string quartet - but sadly due to low ticket sales, Mr. Kinsella put the cobra-kaibosh on the show. Either way, some Save September coverage on the hill was long overdue.

Save September is yet another one of those folk artists that exists in the bubble that is the Halifax music scene. Some escape to bigger audiences and more attention (Ghost Bees, Fall Horsie!), but many just as talented toil in relative obscurity (Paper Beat Scissors and Dan Ledwell come to mind). Crissi's songs are more traditional in nature; the coffee shop ready picked chords and a pure voice carry most of the weight but even at a young age and on a DIY recording, she sophisticates the sound with subtle nuances like the swirl that ends Coming Home or the hand percussion and xylophones on Mexico.

For a singer in her early 20's, Crissi already seems comfortable with her sound and deftly handles the juxtaposition between the memories of her past and the imminent heartbreak that waits for us all as we grow up. She still holds onto some of the innocence of youth, but is growing up quickly and her songs will only get better as the road she travels becomes rockier and the soft side is hardened. Definitely an act to keep an ear on in '09.

MP3:: Save September - Mexico

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Reviews:: Klarka Weinwurm EP

It’s always a good sign when an artist you like randomly suggests you to listen to someone else’s music. Such was the case last week when Jon McKiel suggested we take a listen to Halifax-based song writer Klarka Weinwurm. Obviously since he's been known to share the stage with Klarka he might be biased, but for me it goes back to simple idea that talent attracts talent ideal, not misguided musical nepotism.

Klarka’s debut EP – labeled with the creative title EP – is full of the type of songs you’d expect to hear after a late night when the sun starts to creep over the horizon and only your closest friends are left around. The honesty and fragility revealed over a few spare strums aren’t something you share with a stranger. I know how horribly generic that overused description is, and honestly, it casts a poor light on Klarka’s work, but these aren't uptempo strums and sing-along choruses. There’s little worse than picturing another coffee shop entertainer alienating patrons with grim tales set to spare and disjointed arrangements, but make no mistake, Klarka’s songs grab your attention instantly.

Sure, over the six songs she weaves some eerie tales (thanks to the creepy strings that float on Explorer and Wood Stove Fires), but Weinwurm isn’t indebted to the swirl and ghosts that plague most acts experimenting with the same subject matter and tones. Warm and inviting, the gentle picking that backs the Toronto transplant’s voice is comfortable blanket or sweater you can use to ease the chill she often delivers with her voice. The familiar sounds and reassuring strums help take the sting out of sentiments like "evil all around" or traditional imagery like an ominous crow peering through your window.

The ukulele ditty (True North) that closes the recording channels some of the joy that has surfaced in Julie Doiron’s music of late and shows that Klarka isn’t strictly trapped in the shadows. Sure the song turns out to be a heartfelt apology, but whether it's vulnerability, regret or even the brief flash of optimism she offers when she admits, "we’re getting much better at this" on Can You Go For A Walk, Klarka shows that this EP just scratches the surface of what she has to offer musically and who she is as a person.

MP3:: Klarka Weinwurm - Wood Stove Fires

MP3:: Klarka Weinwurm - True North

Be sure to check out Klarka play with Dan Ledwell and Thomas/Richard on Wednesday @ Tribeca, or her EP release show @ The Paragon on May 20th with Jon and Ruth Minnikin and her Bandwagon.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Introducing:: Little Foot Long Foot

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If I pointed you towards another two piece, bluesy rock band, what would you say? Probably something like, “thanks, but I’ll listen to my White Stripes/Black Keys/Black Diamond Heavies/Speaking Tongues” and move on. But I'd quickly follow up with, “this one is fronted by a woman” and chances are you'd toss back some glib retort along the lines of, “so it’s the poor-man's Pack A.D.? Or just another chick with an unhealthy obsession with Joplin and the color black?”

Well, thankfully Toronto’s Little Foot Long Foot doesn’t fit into such tidy little descriptors. Sure, Harsh Words stands up against the output of some of those bands - Junebug and King Hipster explode out of your speakers, as does the anti-Bush/anti-Landlord anthem, Half Man Half Mule - but on a casual glance you’d expect front woman Joan Smith to play keys or picked acoustic, not gritty garage riffs that fuel her disdain for hipsters and a love of classic rock.

I know it’s easy to fall for big guitars and crashing drums, especially with a cute female belting out the vocals - and make no mistake, she has some pipes - and the fact that Isaac Klein's snare might be tighter than the pants they both seem to hate, but Little Foot Long Fit is working to find their own niche in this suddenly over saturated genre. Their modern take on the classic sound adds just enough self-deprecating humor and sarcastic nonchalance (and some country swagger) to the tried and true emotions you expect to hear.

Instead of bombarding you with only sludgy ballads and searing riffs and garnishing tired comparisons to whiskey soaked nights, the Toronto two-piece really tries to bend their sound pallet. With subtle shifts like the funky groove that starts Market Survey (that breaks into a harmonica laced, hoe-down), the distorted haze that grows on Stripper Song or how effortlessly Smith jumps into a Neko-inspired vocal run on the alt-country chic dismissal Fake Cowboys, Little Foot Long Foot shows that they have more to offer than your standard huge sound.

Little Foot Long Foot is playing the hell out of the East Coast this summer, including the following stops:
  • 14 May 2009 Fredericton, New Brunswick
  • 15 May 2009 St. andrews by the sea, New Brunswick
  • 16 May 2009 New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
  • 17 May 2009 Tribeca Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • 18 May 2009 Gus’ Pub Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • 21 May 2009 Moncton, New Brunswick
  • 22 May 2009 Moncton, New Brunswick
  • 28 Jun 2009 Reflections Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • 4 Jul 20009 The Seahorse Halifax, Nova Scotia

So if we were going with one of those RIYL tags, it would include all the bands you see mentioned above, or I could just say – recommended if you ARE

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reviews:: Sunparlour Players Wave North

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The last time I talked about the Sunparlour Players, I mentioned something about how easy it was to jump into forced metaphors about the band's back story or the region that spurred their name. Well, in theory, none of those things have changed. You could focus on the proud farming tradition and warm southern breezes that describe the southern most part of Ontario or just as easily focus on lead vocalist, Andrew Penner, and talk about how he was raised a Mennonite and build on the stereotypical earnestness you’d expect to shine throughout the songs like it did on the standout Hymns for the Happy.

The thing is, Wave North marks such a huge growth for the Ontario trio, it will shock fans both old and new and shatter most of the easy jump off points reviewers search for. Sure, the elements are the same – banjo, guitar, kick drums, Penner’s unique vocal range – but they all sound bigger and more important. Even with the slowed pace of the opening track, North, the strums host an importance and over the next 12 songs, The Sunparlour Players unleash a collection of thicker arrangements. Producer Jeremy Backofen balances the sweat and emotion that earned the band a rabid fan base with a more professional, intricate sound perfectly. More importantly, he helps the band retain that succinct sound. Experimental? Yes. Wasted notes or confusion? No.

Horns and choral backing are obviously shocking (although they experimented with the latter before), but it’s the surging power the trio delivers that really knocks you back. Even the tender moments are accompanied with a tangible energy that makes you think the band could break into a sprint at any time. On Hymns for the Happy the band had two tempos - fast or slow - but now their control of pace and improved song writing allows for a constant mixing of the two. A few years ago, Nuclear would have ridden the simple picked banjo riff until the wave crashed, but now the 3+ minutes uses organ and tempo changes to hook the listener and the band nestles subtleties deep into the empty spaces.

Figure It Out is another classic ballad, but it seems more mature, more well thought out than anything on their last LP (which, keep in mind was terrific). You might be tempted to compare it to Pacifist’s Anthem - especially when you hear the familiar fret board squeaks - but instead of revealing each note on first pass, Figure it Out hides most of the textures just below the surface. The song unfolds slowly and it takes a few listens to really digest the whole track.

But without question, the biggest accomplishment of Wave North is how a "trio" can rise up and deliver inspired anthems like Point Pelee Is The Place To Be!, worthy of a place beside those penned by 9 and 10 member outfits, without losing any of the sincerity you expect from the Sunparlour Players. I read a press quote once that compared the band to Arcade Fire ... with more banjo and remember laughing. Well, with Wave North they make that writer look prophetic. PPitPtB is more than the fever pitch of John Had A Bell And A Whistle and more than another chance for fans to stomp a hole in the floor. Sure the kick drum that threatens to beat through your chest for the last minute of the song could wake the dead, but it’s the journey up to that point that is so remarkable. The pull the reigns tight at just the right time, gradually letting the song break into full stride.

It's exciting to see the changes the band have gone through. There is no doubt they will still deliver euphoric live shows, but now with a deeper catalog and an a better understanding of their sound, they show that over the next few years, we can expect a slew of consistent, action packed, rewarding records. The band was nice enough to let us offer up the first single - Battle of '77 - for you, so take a listen and start pinching pennies for the May 19th release.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reviews:: Montag Hibernation

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Normally you hear someone mention a “stop-gap” EP and assume it’s going to feature "the single", a remix and maybe an ironic cover or an old b-side, acting as an amuse bouche to whet your palette and little else. When it comes to Montreal’s Antoine Bedard - aka Montag - history shows us that he uses these EPs to explore sounds and shape his upcoming release.

If that’s the case, we can expect a cold chill this summer when his new record is released. The seven songs on Hibernation are Bedard’s attempt to encapsulate the winter months with crisp sounds that slowly expand like the crystalline structures that find a home on the corners of windows when the mercury drops. Making use of vintage synths and the inspiration and experience he gained from scoring films and manipulating other people’s work, Hibernation moves slowly but very confidently.

Obvious Bedard has a vision that he presents clearly – or maybe it would with some camera tricks and lighting – but like many cinematic/artistic explorations, the vision may fall into the “I appreciate it, but am not sure how often I'd revisit it” category. Like a beautiful painting on a wall, this EP is one I'd see in a gallery, enjoy and walk to the next exhibit.

The seven songs – only one uses vocals and that’s in French – use tone and pace to set the mood, instead of relying on clichéd metaphors about scarfs and toques. Hibernation wasn't just a few songs penned about the cold, dark months Montreal gets engulphed by each year. You can tell that the cinematic scope of the project inspired Antoine, as the songs tigger vivid memories of chilled mornings, but cymbal washes and glacial paced synth riffs aren’t going to grab most listeners attention without well shot images playing along side. Without a doubt, the combination of sounds are beautiful (Nord I puts a frost covered kiss on you within the first 30 seconds of the EP), but they start to blend and the quick hitting 7-song EP feels like a much longer listen.

When Bedard resists the urge to hunker down and sleep through the winter and explores the playful, childish nature we all rediscover when the snow is falling, the output is much more successful accessible. La Symétrie Du Coeur warms the EP, building on a whimsical melody and gentle psychedelic was, offering the listener the biggest reward, probably because it’s the most interesting. And that’s probably the biggest problem I have with this EP. Bedard’s art is beautiful and shows obvious talent, it’s just not the art I gravitate towards.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Reviews:: The Provincial Archive Nameless Places

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With all the lo-fi bands making wavves these days by fusing moments of brilliance with static blasts and clouds of noise, it's remarkably refreshing to stumble on the crisp, clean bedroom folk Craig Schram and his band create. Surging anthems and muddled vocals have taken over the place of straight ahead, well penned verses and the never ending onslaught of bad news, worse decisions and pop stars saying nothing of value or interest makes it easier to care about nothing than holding on tight to a moment in time that we will never get back.

It’s easier to pine for days when the only things that mattered were drinking and hooking up or simply take solace in nihilistic attacks on the pillars of our society than admit your thoughts always circle back to your heart. When push comes to shove, apathy, rage or lust trump pining over a girl that broke your heart, especially since the rise and fall – from critics, not fans - of Ben Gibbard, being a sensitive ultra lyricist trapped in basements and bedrooms with only your thoughts and some recording gear have become a bit passé.

Instead of suffering through lo-rent production, Schram prefers to deliver emotions over crystalline sounds that accent his word instead of masking them. Whether it’s a nice acoustic, mandolin, accordion, xylophone or even simple computer effects, the aptly named, The Provincial Archive, doesn’t want to confuse the issue. They simply want to document moments in time for posterity, and while the ear pleasing melodies grab you, it’s the lyrics that force those thoughts into your brain.

A simple picked banjo opens the record - While I Am Writing Letters... - and even as more sounds are added, you continue to hone in on the original riff and Craig’s voice. In 4-minutes you learn everything you need to know about The Provincial Archive, a feat most bands can’t accomplish with the help of a full record. The song never feels the urge to rush or become something more than it is and Schram’s thoughts follow suit. He’s open, honest and willing to admit he still cares. As he sings of writing letters, it’s quite obvious that 140 characters of typos and symbols isn’t enough for Schram to document and his thoughts, nor is it enough time and effort for what the situation warrants.

The beautiful thing about Nameless Places, is that even with the detail and time TPA put into the end result, the events feel like they’ve happened to you. Whether it's the simple comfort of a road trip looking out at the stars as the odometer turns (Draw An Outline) or just enjoying the crisp air of a winter day (Sound In Winter), or something more tangible like the freedom of lost youth, getting your heart broken, wondering what is going to happen next(with apologies to Ice T), these thoughts seem more real than just obsessing over wanting to get laid. These songs are about the hours in your week that don't fly by under the clouded vision of drinks and strobe lights… you know, the ones that actually matter.

Even though there are better songs on Nameless Places (the catchy strums, hand percussion and xylophone of Sound in Winter are impossible to ignore and I can't help hitting << Like A Cloud Would Float finishes), the one that grabs me the most is On the Literate. Earlier this year I talked about the promiscuous slink of Kundera on the Dance Floor. As bar going patrons hunted in search of lust, passages and authors were floated into conversation to show emotional depth and sophistication. Schram’s character talks of a super intimate one–on-one encounter the irony of "her" memorizing words to sum up how she feels about where they are and who they are, but knowing it will fall short when they grow and she wants to leave.

If nothing else, Nameless Places would be worth a listen simply because it reminds us all that it's ok to care. It's ok to know our heart beats for a reason, often one we can't control. Luckily for the Canadian music scene, The Provincial Archive seems determined to keep a detailed record of the events for our own personal history. Even more fortunate is how they makes these personal thoughts sound great. Every melody floats by nicely, letting you zone in and out and still be rewarded. All in all, I'm not sure what else you could ask for.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Contest:: Dog Day CD release party tix and disc

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Dog Day
made a pretty big splash with their 2007 Tomlab release, Night Group (review) and we've all been waiting anxiously for the follow up. Well, wait no longer friends as May 1st marks the official release party for the new record, Concentration.

So, lets cut to the chase. We have two (2) prize packs up for grabs. Both winners get a copy of the new LP + tix to the May 1st show @ Reflections. All you have to do is drop us an email (herohill AT gmail DOT COM) or leave your contact info in the comments. All in all, not much effort required for some sweet booty.


So how is the new record? Well, both Shane and I listened to it and both instantly thought it was better, more consistent and more mature. We both also thought those generic descriptors weren't really enough to fill the word quota we have here on the hill, so we called in the biggest Dog Day fan we know to get his 2 pennies worth. Malcolm Rodgers - number 5 in the program and number 1 in your heart - is the drummer for Covalent Bond and he sat down with the record and jotted down some talking points for us.

So, without further ado:
Happiness - This apocalyptic-themed LP starts off with a very catchy grown-up cousin to the more angst-y Lydia from the first album. It's a great indication that the band is more comfortable in their skin and perhaps with their popularity. The ‘wooo hooo’ chorus is reminiscent of Blur’s Song 2 chorus in syllablyage only. It is Blur Song 2 sung by the rocks on Peggy’s Cove in a typical Nova Scotia downpour. Dog Day could make a career out of 2 minute rockers like this and I’m sure their fans like me would be totally content.

Neighbour - is a song that could have very well fit on the Lakeview Terrace soundtrack (ed.note - I'm guessing no one still watches Samuel Jackson flicks, so I included a link to make sure every gets the reference). Is this a creepy stalker song, or a love-struck neighbor song? Regardless of the message, a song like this I could hear almost sounding better with an acoustic setup with a more hushed tone and Casey Spidle on brushes. Nancy Urich is really showing a more confident vocal performance this time around.

Wait it Out - reminds me the most of the previous album. The music to this song contrasts the lyrics, which are very claustrophobic and again about a bad relationship gone ugly. Songs like this really hit you in the gut and make you wonder what it must be like to be in a band of 2 couples. Are these songs about their relationships? The lyrics hint all around something much darker without ever fully giving away the ending.

Stray - producer John Agnello really shines through here. A band like Dog Day doesn’t need the “brights brightened” but benefits form having the “darks brightened”. The chugging of the guitar alongside Spidle’s bass drum is very hypnotic here, and the maturity of the band comes through here more than elsewhere on the record. Have Dog Day made a love song? I’m sure someone could listen and think the opposite.

Saturday Night - A beautiful song about the enjoyment but also emptiness of a drunken night on the town. “Cold blooded, have you had enough yet?” This album fights the constant battle of messages of “living for the moment” meeting the “what is the point anyway?”. The chatter of a bar is heard near the end of the song and you can almost picture seeing the band playing to a rambunctious crowd at the Seahorse. Seth Smith's vocals have a way of growing on you, and bring me back to John Wozniak’s efforts with Marcy Playground.

Rome - In my opinion Rome is the most epic song Dog Day has produced. It is probably my favorite as well. You again see the band getting much more confident and while they could have easily ended at the 3 minute mark, the cacophony they unleash is just as memorable as the meat of the song. Whereas Nero fiddled whilst Rome burned, the lovers in this song won’t let the fire burn to ashes.

You won’t see me on Sunday - A nice pop song about the sometimes engulfing nature of love. The couple in this song have all they need, and all they need is Love J. They find solace in each other and in singing to one another, and that is the reason you won’t see them on Sunday. The slogan of P90x comes to mind “do your best and forget the rest”.

Judgment Day - The theme of religion appears again here, as “Heaven is expensive, Hell is free” but “I won’t be afraid when it comes my time”. The confident vocal delivery though is countered by a musical backing this very dark and foreboding. I really like the contrast in themes between Judgment Day and You won’t see me on Sunday.

Youth of Destruction - A message to the youth of today. Something rather interesting about this trilogy of songs on the album (“You Won’t..”, “Judgment Day”, “Youth of”). I really like when Seth sings,“Do whatever you want, don’t get carried away.” After the ying and yang of the previous two tracks, you can hear a message of staying true to yourself, because you’re going to hear a lot of mixed messages along the way (even on this CD as it turns out). This trilogy of songs brought me way back to Sonic Youth’s epic trilogy on their Daydream Nation album (The Wonder/Hyperstation/Eliminator Jr.) and the disillusionment evoked there.

Don’t worry about the Future - continues with the apocalyptic theme. It is much more of an interlude type song, and while it continues the theme of the album nicely, it sticks out for me as probably the weakest point on an otherwise very good album.

Peace - Ending with an introspective number, Seth attempts to find peace. The message of thinking too much can be harmful is hammered home with solid percussion (love the haunting ride bell work).

So there you have it, a very solid effort by Dog Day. I was very impressed by their ability this time around to evoke a solid message or concept by more closely intertwining the songs than their previous album. The drumming by one of my favorite drummers Casey Spidle was another highlight as well as the pleasant surprise of the Ulrich vocals. While not every song was a knock out of the park, I am very excited to hear these songs live as well as to see what direction the band takes next.

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Posted at 8:57 AM by ack :: 3 comments

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News:: The Cansecos on tour

myspace || label

It’s not very often I pine for big city life these days. The hill has set up camp here in Halifax and the familiar smell of the Atlantic and slower pace of life fits around us like a snuggly. That being said, baseball season is in full swing and there were a few days in Toronto that were guaranteed to attract the hill. One was Opening Day - atta boy Roy! - and the other was the first series between Texas and the Jays.

Being a Texas fan, baseball has been tough sledding lately. First the A-Roid years, then overspending and finally gradual acceptance of our second tier status. One hundred and sixty-two games is far too long when you are out of the running by the end of May. Of course, when it comes to the Rangers, you are instantly hit with two vivid memories.

One, natch, is Nolan Ryan giving Robin Ventura a knuckle shampoo. It was roughly the sports equivalent of Bender acting up and Principle Vernon putting him in his place. The other, is the classic image of lovable, roided out turncoat Jose Canseco getting capped in the mellon on a fly ball and it bouncing over the wall for a tater. Canseco, was and always will be awesome for his basic goofy moronic, mashing style so when I found out that a TO band took inspiration from the man I was all over it.

The Cansecos have been grinding it out for a few years and a few under appreciated records. I loved me some Juices! (review) and was actually more of a fan of their self-titled debut. Sadly that review got lost in the migration shuffle – which, to be honest is only one Fridge and a Willie Gault short of a Superbowl Shuffle. So, why am I telling you any of this? Well, probably because the TO band has a few shows with Edmonton electro ninjas, Shout Out Out Out Out (review) and sent over a solid remix of Raised By Wolves to entice you all to head to the shows. Sure, you might have grabbed it illegally or bought the Juices! remix record... but now, you can download it guilt free.

Tour Dates

April 25 – Toronto – Lee’s Palace
April 27 – London – Call The Office
April 28 – Kitchener – Starlite Lounge
April 29 – Ottawa – Babylon
April 30 – Montreal – La Sala Ross

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gooseberry Records:: Tributes to Eric's Trip & The Superfriendz


The good people at Gooseberry Records certainly know how to make a band feel good about their catalog. With successful tribute records for Thrush Hermit (review) and The Inbreds (review) already under their belt, they’ve proven that the new generation of East Coast rockers still holds the bands that shaped the scene in the 90s in very high record.

Before I start, I have to admit the amount of music on these two discs is somewhat staggering - 50 songs - and when you look at the revisited output of two great bands, you can’t help but get a bit nostalgic and a little fanboy about the whole affair.

Rescued from Boredom is a whooping sixteen track tribute to The Superfriendz, but the energy and respect the bands show in their covers helps the songs fly by. Back in the day, Karate Man was a MuchMusic staple and was rocked in car and home stereos all over Halifax, and The Friendz kind of became a treasured commodity in Halifax. I guess that's why trying to pick apart the originals for comparison is hard. It’s much easier to appreciate the changes the bands offered up in tribute and remember the good ole days. In-Flight Safety’s straight ahead take on Karate Man is terrific, as is the noise filled spin The Memories Attack give Two Songs. Dan Ldwell beefs up his sound with terrific summery harmonies on One Day and Travis Kokas knocks Stop-Stop out of the park.

In the grand scheme of things, The Superfriendz really never got the credit they deserved and are usually left out of the "great Halifax bands" discussion, but as this compilation proves, their catalog stands firmly on its own.

Songs for Eric is a two-disc collection of Eric's Trip covers and shows a bit more extended reach. Eric’s Trip is one of the most influential bands to ever come out of the East Coast, and with contributions from Baby Eagle, Shotgun Jimmie, VKNGS, Dog Day, Ruth Minnikin , Sleepless Nights, Share and some herohill favs like Construction & Destruction and John Jermone and the Great 88, you really see start to see how many bands truly loved the NB outfit. One listen to C&D attacking Beach and you can just tell they spent hours listening to the song on shitty tape decks in their youth.

The diverse collection of bands also led to some inventive covers – Ruth’s version of Sun Coming Up, Dreamsploitation’s chaotic electronic psychedelics really spice up My Chest is Empty - which is also tackled by songwriter Thomas/Richard - and the way Share makes Frame fit their sound all really stand out, but even when bands stay loyal to the original, you start to realize that Eric’s Trip was a huge influence on a lot of these people because, well, they were fucking good.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reviews:: Royal Wood The Lost or Found EP

web site || buy from zunior

Effortless; a term thrown around all too often in music reviews. The overused descriptor nestles up nicely beside sentiments like beautiful, epic, soaring, hazy, and "I liked their earlier stuff better" and when it comes to classic chamber pop tracks it seems to be a pre-requisite.

When you hear the perfect combination of velvety vocals, smooth melodies and cinematic soundscapes, it's far too easy to talk about how weightless and effortless the sound feels. The truth is those songs are the hardest songs to mime and the effort needed to perfect the sound is incredible. When used correctly, strings and piano are terrific accents but for the most part come off as (at best) unnecessary or (at worst) pretentious when artists try to force importance to their melodrama.

The more you listen to Toronto singer Royal Wood, the more you start to appreciate his ability to handle paino and string filled arrangements that play out as simple, honest expressions. On his new stop gap EP – The Lost and Found EP – the darkness and stark emotions he delivers are hidden underneath ear grabbing tones, and the density of the effort vanishes instantly. Whether he strips away everything except his voice and a piano line (on the touching ballad, All of My Life) or explore bolder arrangements (like the string laden opener Don't Fall Apart or Thinking About), Wood never sacrifices his sincerity.

Finding your musical stride is incredibly tough, but almost impossible when you are trying to strike an original voice amongst some of the talented chamber pop successes Canada has to offer. Over the course of his career, Woods has improved his song writing and it needs to be said; Royal has moved away from the obvious comparisons to greats like Sexsmith and Wainright and now exists as one of their peers.

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Posted at 11:38 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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Contests:: Tix (and CD) Weather Station & Timber Timbre

If you read my little prelim post on the Polaris this year, you'll know I'm a huge fan of the new Timber Timbre record (review). I actually never thought the Taylor would show up here in Halifax, let alone with a quality supporting act like The Weather Station - aka Tamara from Entire Cities. Tamara finally released her debut full length this year - The Line (review) - which is a powerful, chaotic folk record chock o block full of sadness and beauty.

So here's the skinny. Tamara and Taylor are playing solo sets at The Company House on May 16th, and thanks to the good people at Killbeat Music, we have a guestlist spot (+1) and a copy of The Weather Station LP for you. The warm North End venue and intimate set up are perfect for these two, and honestly you won't want to miss this one. All you have to do is email us (herohill AT gmail DOT COM) or comment below. Please remember to include your email address so we can actually contact you when you win. Easy peezy.

The Weather Station
MP3:: Rind

The Weather Station's Tamara Lindeman - "Trying" - TV DESSERTS ep. 2 from Lenny Epstein on Vimeo.

Timber Timbre
MP3:: Will Find Out

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Posted at 8:30 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reviews:: $100 Forest of Tears

web site

I’m not sure why more people aren’t smitten with the grim tales $100 writes. Honestly, if you sit down and soak in Simone Schmidt's gruff voice and embrace her penchant for narratives full of pain and suffering that are balanced by Ian Russell’s comfortable country arrangements, I find it baffling you could ignore Forest of Tears.

One listen to Stew Crookes’ pedal steel and the beautiful melancholy of Nothing's Alright will warm the heart of any true country fan and the slow meandering sounds of Paris is Burning shows how effortlessly the band can pen a heartbreaking ballad, but $100 is far from a one-note effort.

The powerful debut is a terrific example of a country band willing to fill their songs with the grit and grime of Toronto and emotions and scenarios unfamiliar to most country track protagonists. Thanks to a guiding hand from noise aficionado Rick White, the live on the floor recordings transform Schmidt’s twang into something more adventurous. Whether it’s the drone that dominates Tirade of a Shitty Mom or the chaos that slowly takes over the title track, the recording is infused with an energy you don’t find in country efforts. Instead of stomping a foot through the floor, you find your self soaking in the hazy psychedelics and straining to hear every note trapped in cloud.

But to be honest, it’s when the band sneaks in the heartache and pain of today’s world into the most classic sounds that the effort really sizzles. Opening with the powerful Careless Love, Schmidt transports you inside the mind of a women bored by her lover, his futile touch and wandering eye, but the words are cradled by a fairly traditional arrangement.

No Great Leap
is a traditional tear-in-your-beer track that could have been written twenty years ago. Schmidt’s voice draws you in and the bended notes provide the support usually left for bar stools and supportive sentiments from the man serving the drinks, but when you really listen you get hit with a more tangible impact. The depressing recant of a women traveling the same subway line, year after year, fighting the depression and urge to jump (No Great Leap), and proves that even when the band pays tribute to classic sounds, they are never indebted to them.

Labels: Best-of '08, , ,

Posted at 10:27 AM by ack :: 5 comments

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Polaris Prize:: Round 1

With the first cut-off date for Polaris Long-List nominations approaching, and this being our first time being involved, I thought it would be a lot easier to jot down thoughts and ideas before the deadline, instead of just scanning the list and writing down 5 records on due date. Obviously, we've covered a ton of Canadian releases this year - one or two a day, 5 days a week - but we've missed some quality ones as well.

I haven't decided my Top 5 or the order they fall in but right now these are the nine records leading the herohill Polaris charge (with a few fighting to grab that 10th spot):

Elliott Brood - Meadow Mountain (review) || MP3 || web site

What we said: "And that's probably the thing that grabs me on Mountain Meadow. Despite their previous critical successes (their debut LP - Ambassador - was nominated for a Juno), Elliott Brood is often described as a terrific live band that falls short on record. While I've never agreed with these sentiments, the trio has worked hard to make a record that has the spirit and swagger of a live show, but still allow for repeatable listens. Write it all Down For and Chuckwagon are sweaty stomps track that will fuel sets for years to come, but the band has learned how to transform energetic tracks destined for the stage into songs that reward the headphone listener as well."

For our Halifax readers, Elliott Brood is playing the new Paragon on Friday. Be there.

Joel Plaskett - Three (Review)|| MP3 || web site

What we said: "It’s not surprising that Joel seems to focus on "leaving" for the majority of the first record. He’s reached the point where his life – well, as best as it can when he has to constantly hit the road – is settled here in Nova Scotia, but he’s also reached the age where you can’t help but wonder why worked out the way it did. When you call a different city home for half the year, constantly see your friends leaving and have to say goodbye before piling into the van night after night, you can’t help but feel the grind, miss the smells of home or wonder why you still spend so many hours watching the odometer turn."

Timber Timbre - Self-titled
(review) || MP3 || myspace

What we said: "So, to be honest, the change in sound he delivers on the new self-titled release was quite unexpected. Kirk still has the charisma to tell a compelling stories using little more than the muted, steady strums of his guitar, but the textures he adds accentuate the ominous tones of the record and really complete his songs. Organ, piano, percussion and beautiful string arrangements all add a density to Kirk’s compositions and fill some of the space once reserved for echoes and creaks."

VanGaalen - The Soft Airplane (review) || MP3:: City of Electric Light

What we said: "He's obviously a unique man with social anxiety and an unquenchable thirst for creative expression and as a result Soft Airplane is incredibly spontaneous and challenging, but at the same time multiple listens show how well the record is thought out. Sound effects, textures and emotion are nestled into the folds and corners, and until you can listen to the complete song, you aren't really hearing Chad's visions."

This was also voted my favorite album of 2008....

Japandroids - Post-Nothing (review) || MP3 || myspace

What we said: "The band is a simple combination of huge drums, guitar and the sing/shouts of Brian King and David Prowse, but the end result is much, much more. The nine song album delivers anthem after anthem, with distorted guitar and crashing cymbals personify the rage of youth, but the melodies the guys deliver really show the emotion and reality we all face when it's time to grow up."

For those unlucky enough to not hear this record, let me just say the songs create the most melodic drone you will find, and this two-piece from Vancouver sounds huge as they manage to perfectly convey the emotions of growing up even when you don't want to, without seeming pathetic nostalgic.

D-sisive - The Book (review) || MP3 (not from The Book) || myspace

What we said
: "Moving on, the hypnotic drums and keys of Kneecaps make up one of my favorite beats on the album, and D's mixing of his love for hip hop with the story of losing his parents is pretty captivating. Solid song all around. Church organ provides the backdrop for Laundry Room, likely one of the most depressing hip hop song you'll ever hear. Well I should clarify that, as the most intentionally depressing hip hop song, as anything currently in the top 10 from people like Young Jeezy or Plies will likely depress you for a different reason."

Admittedly, I would have never heard this record if Shane hadn't given it the huge Thumbs Up - coveted number 1 spot on his Canadian MC list - but the book is a fantastic LP. It's concise, powerful and he manages to hit with real emotion without seeming like he's crying or whining.

Portico - First Neighbours
(review) || MP3 || myspace

What we said: "On first pass, there are so many things that stand out on First Neighbours; the way they balance heavy, distorted guitar with a surprisingly soft touch, melodies that bob along like the little white ball over top of the words on a karaoke machine, the classic “indie – when indie still meant something” rock feel of songs that talk about nothing more than love, awkward silences and f*cking and the way they can transform an instrument like a simple horn into a completely new sound, but it’s when you really dive in that the greatness of this record stand to surface."

Women - Self-titled (review) || MP3 || myspace

What we said: "The self-titled debut is only 29 minutes, and really is more a collection of truncated ideas surrounding five more structured tracks, but live the songs, much like the plethora of equipment the band uses, mesh together into a surging, morphing mass. The set was energy filled, driven by Matt's thick bass lines but it was fueled by front man Pat's spastic guitar and yelps, and Mike's crashing percussion. They were able to balance the experimental noise with tight interaction and sounds that made heads bob."

$100 - Forest of Tears.
Review and info coming tomorrow. Let me just say, I'm smitten with this release, and been listening non-stop the last week or so.

Labels: Best-of '08, , , ,

Posted at 10:09 AM by ack :: 6 comments

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Quick Hitters:: Jason Haywood

myspace || label

I’ve been plowing through releases trying to ready my Polaris long list nominations (spoiler - Elliott Brood and Timbre Timber will be on it), and honestly it’s a bit overwhelming. Even with all the great bands everyone gets to hear on CBC3 or college radio, the amount of quality music coming out of Canada is staggering. Every time I think I have my 5 records selected, a song on my IPOD triggers a new thought and a quick reorder. That being said, yesterday I think I hit critical mass with "new shit" and a fresh listen to an old record was just what the doctor ordered.

The Divorcees have made a big splash on the East Coast country scene, arguably fighting neck and neck with Ryan Cook for top spot in the public eye, but former Divorcee Jason Haywood is a little known artist that pens some terrific Canadiana country. I talk about it all the time, but the temptation to put a little steel in your songs is en vogue these days and as a result, the term alt-country leans heavily on the first three letters of the word. For people that grew up with Buck, Merle, or Willie, it must be frustrating to see all the people ignoring the tradition, classic subject matter that makes country music so timeless.

More importantly – especially if you consider that Jason finds a home on Haysale Records, a label run by former Guthrie Serge Samson (a band that honestly was too far ahead of the curve and would be one of the biggest bands in Canada if they were playing now) – the rise in popularity and number of people soaking up Townes or covering The Band must leave a bad taste in some purists’ mouths. When you’ve been playing that music for years and listening for even longer, the cash and dash feel of a lot of artists looking for the hottest sound must sting. Haywood approaches the “alt-country” style from a firm country background, setting up a solid foundation of familiar sounds and subjects. Instead of thinking about how to splice tone setting steel and down on your luck, head on the bar emotions into his tracks, those elements come naturally to his 2005 solo debut, Nothing Stays the Same.

His challenge was to fuse the sounds of those old-time heroes with more popular artists like The Byrds or even Gram Parsons and he handles the mix with aplomb. Honestly, the best compliment I could give him is that the record could have been made 20 years ago or 20 minutes ago. Whether it’s the backing female vocals and straight ahead melody of Waiting for Me, the road weary feel and loneliness A Million Miles Away or the banjo/steel heavy I'll Make it Through, you get the feeling Haywood is an artist that would get the nod from people aged sixteen to sixty. I could throw the record on for my dad or a North End hipster and not receive a complaint from either party.

The best part about taking a look back and digesting Jason’s full record is that now I’m even more excited for his upcoming release (spring '09 on Haysale). He’s giving away the first demo, so take a listen.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

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

Fraser - House on a Hill
myspace || buy CD

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

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

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

Pale Air Singers - S/T
myspace || label

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

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

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

Dog is Blue - ... Make Ghost Noises

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

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

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

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Reviews:: Modulok - Cities And Years

It seems somehow fitting that although this is the third album involving Toronto MC Modulok that I've reviewed in a relatively short timespan, I've only now realized that Modulok was also the name of a He-Man villain. I say fitting because Cities and Years appears to be the most revealing record Modulok has put out to date. Certainly Moe's lyrics on this album have more interesting things to reveal than a connection to a popular 80's cartoon, but the comparison works for my purposes.

You know what else works? This album. I have to say, if a young MC were to ask me what a hip hop album should look like in '09, this is the one I might point to now. It's eight songs of straight forward hip hop goodness: no fifty guests and no un-necessary gun talk or forced, tight-pants hipster rap nonsense. Solid beats and thoughtful rhymes are enough for me. I know this isn't enough for most folks these days, but it really should be.

Cities and Years also does something not enough albums do these days: its opening song sets the pace for the rest of the album. Cool and Deadly has a laid back, yet thumping, beat, which is augmented with some guitar licks and scratched snippets of classic hip hop tracks, laced with some contemplative lyrics from Modulok (and Apollo Creed on this song, who I enjoyed after first encountering him on his last outing with Modulok. He drops "stay gold Ponyboy", which should also endear him to the Ack). I have to admit, this kind of hip hop is pretty much exactly in my wheelhouse - the Premier-esque, 90's combo of rugged drums and scratched samples, so if you can do it well in this day & age, I'm on board. Modulok and producer Leon Murphy, who I think produced this whole album, have done it really, really well here.

I think I'll go out on a limb and say Your Boyfriends' A Cokehead might be one of the better hip hop songs you'll hear this year. The almost comical name is in contrast to the wistful, almost sorrowful, tone of the song, created by the mournful horns and Moes lyrics that find him opening up about his wish that the object of his affection would drop her sniffy boyfriend and let him take his spot.

Your boyfriend got a flimsy handshake.
Your boyfriend dresses like Justin Timberlake.
Your boyfriend won't take you to rap shows.
Your boyfriend snorts white shit up his nose

I can't do the lyrics justice without Modulok's deadpan, matter-of-fact delivery of them, but this is really a great song in my humble. As is the confessional A Certain Time Of The Day, built on a static-y bed of thumping drums and twinkly piano loops, it is certainly a more personal view of Modulok as more than an MC - admitting he feels down from time to time, but hip hop and the buzz of the city pulls him out of his funk.

Honestly, just listening to the cut-up samples in Timewalker (Jay, DOOM and (I think) The Grand Wizard Ghettosocks!) and Miserable Existentialist (Mobb Deep, Mos Def, and an awesome Cee-Lo Green) makes me very, very happy, but the beats and rhymes on both are also really solid, so it's win-win. Album closer Keep Moving offers some light-hearted hip hop life philosophy from Moe, Apollo Creed, and Abyss, but I have to say, I think Apollo steals the show with his Blueprint-esque flow.

Quite often we say things here like "I hope this album reaches a lot of ears", but in this case I mean it in spades. I'm not sure how well-know Modulok is in Canada, outside of Toronto, but he and his crew at Takaba Records are doing the kind of hip hop purists are always clamoring for, so here's hoping they reach as many ears as possible. You should do your part and get a copy of Cities and Years.

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Posted at 12:42 PM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Reviews:: Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko Africa to Appalachia

web site || Buy from Outside
This year, the Junos came and went and - according to everyone I know in Vancouver – were fairly well received. Normally, the "celebration" is a 3 hour circle jerk for fans of Celine Dion, Bryan Adams and Nickelback, but this year a few bands I truly enjoy snuck into the mix.

The roots nominees included herohill favs, Old Man Luedecke, NQ Arbuckle, Elliott Brood and Twilight Hotel. Even the best "new" group was an artist you can at least stand behind (The Stills), but the most exciting winner of the year was the fantastic collabo record from Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko.

I was actually going to have a nice congrats post as an excuse to link up some of the MP3s from Old Man Luedecke and Rose Cousins playing with the NS Symphony, but a search of the ole archives showed me that I forgot to mention Jayme and Mansa’s album. So, here’s to righting wrongs I guess.

Last year, everyone seemed to be jumping on the African music train. From Ivy League popsters to indie DJs to Ras Trent, everyone was professing love to the smile (and ganja haze) inducing melodies that drifted across from the shores of Africa. You couldn’t turn around without stumbling onto someone talking about Fela. Every time you headed out for a coffee or crashed a house party, you were greeted by a track from "The Very Best" or an old Nigerian comp. Basically, the new flavor of the month for white people quickly became as played out as talking about Things White People Like.

Not to say the music wasn't deserving of attention, it was more that within a few months the music scene shifted completely towards a few records and bands tripped over themselves trying to record something with a world influence. But the driving funk of Afrobeat and the familiar charm of Graceland pop ignore some of the oldest traditions of African music; ones that Stone was determined to find. The journey and appreciation of the past help you feel something completely different when you hear Stone and Sissoko play.

Africa to Appalachia – like the title suggests – is a true collaboration, defined by history not hype. Stone learned songs and techniques from Mansa while visiting Africa researching the history of the instrument he plays and the music they create is a blend of banjo fury and smooth, African grooves. The two intermingle, regardless of who is driving the track, as if they had played together for years. June Apple and Chinquapin Hunting are foot stomping banjo numbers that on the surface seem almost void of African heritage, but fit nicely alongside traditional Malian folk songs like Bamaneyake.

The way these musicians interact is amazing, considering a communication barrier and the only bridge was the similarities of the instruments they play (Mansa rocks a 21-string kora), but as soon as Stone was immersed among the villagers, he felt at home musically. Whether it was the good old clawhammer style they played or the simple picking transitions, Stone began to see where his influences truly originated and helped him open up pockets of sounds for the kora to dance in.

I'm usually in the Rob Gordon camp - looking down my nose at whatever world music is popular - but this record is more of a tribute and a time capsule than a rehash of music. Stone melds his style to match the people teaching him, and more importantly, it shows just how powerful music can be. When a jazz/roots artist can travel to a remote village in Mali and create beautiful melodies that sound authentic and pure, the results deserve your attention.

For more tracks, head over to Jayme's site and check out the 3-song ecard.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reviews:: Patrick Watson Wooden Arms

web site || label

Two years ago, like most of the world, I was relatively new to Patrick Watson. I really enjoyed Close to Paradise, but was shocked that he got a Juno nod and was absolutely floored when he grabbed the coveted Polaris Prize over names like Feist, The Besnard Lakes, Plaskett and Arcade Fire. Now, two years later Patrick Watson is a name on everyone’s tongue and his upcoming Secret City release - Wooden Arms - is one of the most anticipated of ’09 in the Canadian scene.

One listen to Wooden Arms and it's obvious that the last two years have been kind to Watson and his band. They’ve traveled the world, taking influence and inspiration from the exotic locales they visited and talented musicians with which they’ve played. It’s so easy to throw out easy qualifiers for this record – more mature, Canadian Radiohead (his falsetto begs the Yorke comparison at times) – but they make light of the success of Wooden Arms and the consistent collection of songs Watson delivers. More importantly, they take away from the way Watson blends influences and his own originality. Atmospheric and orchestral tones are constant, as is the clanking percussion the band is fond of, but the subtleties show the band using a much broader palette.

Percussion and a patient builds help epics like Tracy's Waters and Traveling Salesman surge forward, but the whimsy and amazement of Beijing helps you see the new world as Patrick sees it and offer up another side of Watson. The banjo riff and female vocals of the New Orleans Jazz fest ready Big Bird in a Small Cage are incredibly pleasant, but the track is more than just a folk song. Obviously visiting the area affected Watson, and this track combines the classic sounds with his love of echoing harmonies and atmosphere. The required crutches of comparing his voice to Devandra or his style to talents like Buckley or Drake are no longer needed, as Watson makes huge strides in defining his place in music.

Down on the Beach effortlessly glides forward, but never climaxes and as a result the tribal drums feel more natural and soothing, like meditation. A more cinematic vibe drives Where the Wild Things Are, a track that seems tailor made to fit into a scene of Spike Jonze’s adaptation of the classic tale, and Watson handles both nicely. The interesting thing is that with all the layers and the terrific production on Wooden Arms, there are lots of instances where Watson and his band invoke the less is more approach. The gentle crescendo of the piano never overpowers the simple arrangement and emotion they create with the strings on Hommage, and Man Like You shows the confidence of a front man playing a straight ahead track.

Basically, Watson is in a weird "no win, no lose" situation. He had carte blanche to try whatever he wanted on this release, but also had to be ready for backlash from fans that know him more for an award and his opening tour slots AND fans that will accuse him of selling out now that he has some success. Remarkably, he created a record that will appeal to casual fans, but took enough risks – like a seven minute closing track that meanders constantly - and showed enough growth to keep critics quiet as well.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Quick Hitters:: Adrien Sala Diamonds in the Mind


Winnipeg resident Adrien Sala seems determined to separate himself from the musical plagues of today. He’s more concerned with mining through gems and nuggets from years past than he is on trying to find a new style to express his thoughts. His last effort - High Water Everywhere - was a finger picked, Appalachian mountain influenced effort, so the depth and density of Diamonds in the Mind is pretty surprising.

With some support from label mates The D-Rangers and The Western States, Diamonds in the Mind finds Sala transforming his sound from mountain desolation to a more soul filled affair. That’s not to say that Sala is now rocking the rafters and stomping out those flavor of the month, booming country tinged anthems clouded by layer after layer. Songs like Fish Lung Balloon and Never Been the Kind still play like a man’s solitary thoughts when the light turns to dark, but now his words are supported with well placed, clear instrumentation (mandolins, steel, strings, organ, bass, piano and percussion).

The new sound palette lets Sala wander from the path – flourishes like the hazy horns that run through the last two-minutes of Storm Record, the mandolin that dances around the steel on the beautiful Hudson or the big electric that darts out on City Lights are incredibly successful - without losing the focus of his songs, resulting in a more invigorating listen. Look, I know Sala is going to remain far from the ears of most music fans, but I don't think he's trying to win over the masses. Diamonds in the Mind is his tribute to the music that influences his own work, an album any Americana fan should spend a few hours with and certainly one that I stand firmly behind.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Reviews:: Japandroids Post Nothing


April has already been a pretty stellar month in terms of quality Canadian releases, but one I’ve been waiting anxiously for is the full length from Vancouver’s Japandroids. It seems like I’ve been waiting for this record for years. It was supposed to be self-released sometime last year and even with two EPs, seeing them play countless times in Vancouver before moving, some serious love from the powers that be, and of course the fact Quinn over at From Blown Speakers has long since tried to get people excited about the duo, it still feels like the Vancouver band was constantly lost in the myre.

Well, as of April 28th you can grab Post-Nothing on vinyl or digital download, and I highly suggest you pick it up.

The band is a simple combination of huge drums, guitar and the sing/shouts of Brian King and David Prowse, but the end result is much, much more. The nine song album delivers anthem after anthem, with distorted guitar and crashing cymbals personify the rage of youth, but the melodies the guys deliver really show the emotion and reality we all face when it's time to grow up.

Vancouver's a tough fucking city; hidden underneath the beautiful mountains and Oceanside parks is poverty, one of the most astronomical costs of living in Canada and musically, a scene that constantly shifts to accommodate the venues that get bought up for more condos, and a weird sense of exclusion and pride when it comes to specific sounds and bands. I'm not trying to claim that Japandroids could be the glue that holds it all together (even if they do rep the scene well on Rockers East Vancouver) - if anything, I'd say that it would probably be harder for them to fit into the heavy noise scene or the more straight ahead rock pockets scattered around town - but they might just be the noise outfit that gets out and gets noticed.

"We used to dream, now we worry about dying."

It would be so easy to dismiss the thoughts Dan and Brian offer up, if they weren't so real and already running around most of our minds. In the same way Joel Plaskett documented the confusion and loneliness of leaving, this Vancouver duo makes us think about what happens when the simple things we all took for granted start to disappear and we get stuck when everyone else seems to leave. We all grow up, grow apart and most importantly we all change, but everyone goes through that change at different times. Post-Nothing seems like the bible for those years where we are wondering whether to hold on as tight as possible or let go and accept the inevitable fall.

The huge drum fill and crunching guitar they give us on Wet Hair pushes along a simple adolescent fantasy - "we can french kiss some French girls" - and you remember that not too long ago, nights when hooking up and making out with a stranger you meet at a party or in a crowded bar were all you thought about. For me those days for me happened in the 90's and that's where this sound would have fit perfectly, but the great thing about Japandroids is they realize that youth fades and that simple, biting fact makes these songs more that a nostalgic look back at days that probably weren't all that good to begin with. More importantly, that reality is what makes this record so damn good.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mailbag:: Laura Borealis, The Thermals, Vince Martinez

The Thermals - Now We Can See
We normally don’t write about American bands, especially ones that get regular love on the bigger blogs, but the new record from Portland’s punk rockers The Thermals is pretty damn good. More importantly, I’m not sure if the band has started to make waves here in Nova Scotia, so it’s a great chance to let our local readers in on that goodness.

Now We Can See is unashamed 90’s influenced pop punk and is going to draw tons of comparison to Green Day, and honestly, I’m more than okay with saying it. Sure it’s a huge over simplification of the sound and an easy way to talk about the more mature direction Hutch and Kathy are moving, but there’s not a bad song on the record and with crunching tracks like Now We Can See, When I Died and I Called Out Your Name, this record could be perfect for a lot of people’s summers.

So, here are a few MP3s, legal and everything.

Laura Borealis – I Love You || Buy from Zunior

Moving from a band that seems to be saddled with the "concept record" descriptor, to a long time vet of the Canadian scene that actually wrote one. Montreal’s Laura Borealis is one of those names that have floated around the scene for the last twenty years. You hear snippets – “She recorded with Steve Albini!”, “She directed the video for French Inhale and 10 lbs!” – but most are probably pretty unfamiliar with her output.

On her last record – Laura - her warm voice emoted a sultry cool over simple guitar and flowed gently like waves pushing their way across the sand, but I Love You is a new beast. The ten-song LP is a series of duets with 9 different male vocalists, including Halifax legend Al Tuck and Jon McKiel, and the lo-fi tracks set out to tackle the highs and lows of love, without resorting to tempo shifts and crescendos to make their point.

With delicate smatterings of subtle instrumentation – violin, flute, programmed keep time beats, piano, Rhodes – the sounds never grow beyond a whisper. These are songs, ones without hooks or crescendos. These are stories, ones without comedy or obvious conclusions. These are honest, and like life itself, they seem to roll over time and time again without broaching the gripping highs or crushing lows that we all seem to obsess over.

Vince Martinez - Vince Mtz. & The Great Blue Yonder

One of my best friends in the entire world is currently driving across the US with his past, present and future shoved into every nook and cranny of his car. He’s leaving Seattle, heading back East to a place we both thought was compartmentalized as a period of time with great friends and great memories, not a place that might be his home again. I guess that’s why the songs from Seattle resident Vince Martinez hit home these days.

On his new record – Vince Martinez & The Great Blue Yonder – are more suited to the dusty trails in Nevada or New Mexico than they are the coffee house streets and rain of Seattle, but the themes Vince delivers on are pretty universal. Over straight ahead acoustic, violin and harmonica Vince (with support from Carla Brauer) sings of alienation, depression and the never ending desire to roam while constantly being called back home. The slight drawl in his voice adds some personality to the tracks and the 9-songs are easy to embrace.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reviews:: Eamon McGrath 13 Songs of Whiskey and Light


Music certainly has changed in the last few years. Influences, styles, mediums and most of all the simple way fans consume it, so it warms my old curmudgeonly heart to stumble on a young man who is a throwback to a generation that failed to heed Victor Kurgan’s advice and seems to be fading away.

Twenty-year old Edmonton native Eamon McGrath writes songs because he has to... not because he wants to or even for more superficial reasons (girls, booze, fame). No, this guy records song after song – 18 home records already – afraid to let time sit still or any idea slip by undocumented. He’s the type of artist that makes me want to talk in cliches and run wild with hyperbolic comparisons, mostly because he's the type of artist that will be around for years and years singing to the same same small crowds that love his songs.

It's quite obvious that the blog world has little to no time for a guy, a guitar, his amp and never ending stream of ideas, especially if he’s not playing catchy acoustic riffs. The styles and people that influence Eamon are dying off and being forgotten. Punk rock has been bought and sold; tied to energy drinks and mall going youths while the ideals it stood far are long since forgotten. The blues? Well, unless it’s a frantic slide guitar and stomp a hole through the floor percussion, people don’t have time to listen. The days of the wandering, singing street poet have given way to mash-ups and recycled ideas and personally I think music is suffering as a result.

People these days say how The Hold Steady speaks perfectly for their youth and can save your life by bringing joy to music again... and while that may be true for those who think that high school and college were the best days of our lives, artists like Eamon speak for the kids that don’t have it figured out, get run over by love and isolation and wonder if it's ever just going to work out. Eamon isn’t going to save them or rock n’ roll, but he’s one of those artists that help us remember that for even a moment, the simple strums of an acoustic are enough to get us through the day.

His songs are strong enough to be played alone on stage, the type you try to figure out on your own guitar and stick with you the more you listen. It’s pointless to try to compare a 20-year old with the greats like Waits or Young, but McGrath seems like he could walk the same path; unafraid to power through the sludge and try something that may sound like nothing more than echoing distortion or open up to a room full of drunken punks with a stripped down touching ballad.

Get yourself together man, the bars are barely open. But you’ve got yourself a drink and it’s half gone.”

Eamon has some issues, ones he doesn’t skirt but more importantly ones he doesn’t glamorize. The drinks battle the sadness, trying to repress the inevitable but when the sadness wins out like it does on the beautifully touching Holy Roller it hits with the weight of the world as a man searches for faith or even the hope that things could get better. Even as Eamon tries to lessen the impact with scattered guitar feedback, the simple rolling piano and keep time percussion wins out and you start looking upward with him.

The 13 songs were cherry picked from his hundreds or recorded works by the good people at White Whale, but there’s so much honesty, angst, depression, emotion and fucking talent that it doesn’t much matter where or when they originated. Eamon isn’t going anywhere and that’s something he needs as much as we do now. It’s keeping him going, keeping us listening and keeping the blood ripping through our veins and forcing our heart to beat.


Eamon McGrath - Welcome to the Heart
Eamon McGrath - Big River
Songs To Sing When Your Dead/Wild Dogs

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Quick Hitters:: Megan Hamilton See Your Midnight Breath in the Shipyard

web site

For some reason, I still thought of Megan Hamilton as the artist pumping out the quirky, country/folk tracks she delivered on her debut, The Feudal Ladies Club. I actually forgot about her shape shifting EP (How We Think About Light) and dramatic change in sound she underwent on some of those six songs.

If I had remembered, I probably wouldn't have been so shocked by her latest effort, See Your Midnight Breath in the Shipyard. Even then, Hamilton was working on darker (in my opinion Beach House) sounds, pushing the limits of her voice and escaping the comfort zone of the trademark country pop she delivered on her debut.

Even more has changed this time around for Hamilton. Some talented session musicians help her paint with bigger, bolder strokes and experiment with different sonic palettes. Gone is influence of the spacious fields of Saskatchewan and the restrictions of home recording and in their place is the comforts of being closer to home and the unending potential of recording in a professional studio. Working with familiar touch of co-producer Mark Vogelsang, Megan's songs are more mood driven and she lets her beautiful voice curl around the smokey melodies, adding just enough reverb and distortion to disrupt the calm (Sprout Through The Load).

She still relies on simple strums and structure (We All Love You), but seems more comfortable when things get a little louder and a little darker (Cat Leg Tail) and overall you feel a sense of confidence and assuredness with this record. Even when she drifts back to her country folk roots, it's with a fuller, stronger sound. For those of you that forgot about Megan, this might be a big jump in sound, but once you settle in, it's one you will certainly enjoy.

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Reviews:: Basket of Figs Oh Eye, Oh Night

buy online

When I stumbled on Basket of Figs I really had no idea who she/they were, where they were from or any other information other than the songs on the 666 EP were fantastic. Even now, the myspace they once had is gone and tracking down more info requires some Burn After Reading type shit.

Basically, I gushed some pleasantries – “The collection of demos ache and creak, but still expose strength and beauty. Fighting against the static and rough edges, her voice is clear and piercing” – but more importantly, since that review I’ve found myself revisiting the songs over and over again.

After the post, I unearthed some info and realized she was originally known as The Hotel Ghost and was featured on the terrific Yerbird comp, Folk Music for the End of the World, and some new music was being release as part of Morgan’s Aviary program. Oh Eye, Oh Night builds off an appreciation of Tom Waits. While a love for the gravel voiced, percussive, musical hobo is not all uncommon, hearing an artist pour the emotion of a Brennan/Waits track for nothing more than their own enjoyment – this EP was not really intended to see the light of day or reach the ears of fans – is pretty special.

BoF’s voice is unique and the rough edge and piercing clarity really help her handle the Waits track, and so does the respect she shows the man. People know that Waits loves to clank and stomp, but the way his voice hugs the curve on his slowed down ballads is amazing. He exposes tenderness and emotion better than almost anyone and when artists try to change the feel of the song the results are a mess. BoF opts to play this song with just a few strums of her guitar, eliminating the cacophony that dominates the last minute of the original and her slow paced, heavy strums give the track a sadness. As she reaches to shut off her 4-track, you really hear the isolation in the room and are left chilled.

The rest of the EP is just as strong. On Ramble Ramble and Rebirth the echoing, empty thump of her guitar body is the only percussion you hear, but again it really helps finish the stripped down tracks. It’s hard to convince you why these songs work so well; they are nothing more than emotion and a few guitar strums but they hit you like a broken heart or a solid right hand.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Reviews:: Immaculate Machine High on Jackson Hill


Normally when you hear that a band breaks up or changes its lineup directly after recording new material, the resulting output is a bit of a mess. As the band starts to sense the end, artistic direction is push and pulled to the point the band’s fabric is ripped beyond repair.

In the case of Immaculate Machine, with Kathryn focusing on her countless other projects (New Pornographers, Jon-Rae Fletcher) and Luke retiring from his duties on skins, High on Jackson Hill really plays like a swan song for IM as a trio and the passing of the torch to Brooke Gallup. Without focusing too much into the dramatic change in the band's lineup moving forward – IM has become more of a family band with the support of his Brooke's sister and his girlfriend, a new drummer and guitarist – it’s easy to just listen to High on Jackson Hill for its countless rewards.

The 70’s swagger of He’s a Biter, straight ahead rock riff of Neighbours Don't Mind and infectious hook and chorus of Thank Me Later really infuse the record with energy and pave the way for more subdued, orchestral efforts like I Know It's Not as Easy or And it Was. Honest emotion pours out of the back porch, Kathryn led You Destroyer, but some how the beautiful acoustic number stand along side the swanky, sultry feel of the single Sound the Alarms.

IM has been playing music for a long time – three albums and a couple of EPs – but this record feels like it might have been the most fun to record (even though it’s the least poppy in my opinion). Instead of being concerned with audience, High on Jackson Hill shows the freedom of recording sessions where no idea was discarded without giving it a try first. The band even escaped the pressures and gloss of the studio by recording the songs in a basement instead, letting the noises of the neighborhood and grit of the sessions shape the sound.

I'm not sure what's going to happen with Immaculate Machine. Brooke's diverse musical background and the rotating cast of characters make it impossible to predict what direction they may follow, but High on Jackson Hill is a nice transition that helps you remember why you like the band so much and still gets you excited for what's next.

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Reviews:: Dark Mean Frankencottage

myspace || web site

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of the Hamilton label, Down by the Point records. The small run label is exactly the type of outfit that we bloggers should be searching out; limited-to-no PR budget, repping the hell out of their local scene and, of course, good bands with different sounds. So when Matt Paxton sent over the new EP from a band he is stoked on Dark Mean, I quickly hit stop on my iTunes and loaded up Frankencottage.

UPDATE - this release is actually on Vibewrangler, the Down by the Point people are just helping it get noticed.

The four-song EP opens with a bang… or more accurately, a stomping kick drum. Happy Banjo builds on the drums with a dancing banjo riff, harmonies, horns, pedal steel and electronics – all of which seem determined to battle the underlying sadness of the vocals. The four-minute song tucks little surprises into every opening and before it’s finished playing for the first time, you are trying to sing along to the words you don’t even know. That energy carries over to the title track, Frankencottage, as the drums, bass line and hand claps set the tone for soaring choruses and some electric noodling. Even with all the layers they experiment with, the sound is concise and crisp and the trio never lets your attention wander.

The second half of the EP might seem more subdued, as Lullabye starts as a tender ballad, but slowly an intensity burns and as the vocals get strained the folky banjo is mixed with drums and heavy strummed acoustic to build a powerful collage of sound. For me though, it’s the understanding of flow that makes this track work. The band takes their foot of the gas with gentle cymbal washes and the ambient folk outro really gives some depth to the quick hitting EP and shows that the band has more than one gear to play with on their upcoming full length.

China again mixes delicate sounds – piano, chimes – with a stomping drum line and warped synths notes. The interesting dichotomy helps Dark Mean, letting them reveal a gentler side to their songs, adding emotion and layers but providing the necessary stomp and energy to keep today's A.D.D. listeners engaged. The trio – each living in a different location – is experimenting with familiar tones, but combining them in new ways with terrific results. I kept wanting to highlight a song with a blanketing statement like, "Frankencottage would be worth your cash for Happy Banjo alone" but the more I listen, the more I am embracing each song on the EP. Oh... and the band is giving it away for free on their web site.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday Morning Coffee:: Paper Beat Scissors


It seems no matter how often we preach to the masses, people still forget that Halifax is more than Celtic folk and slacker rock. Sure, both styles are well accounted for here in the city, but a blossoming, adventurous folk scene is just one of the many other communities strengthening its hold on the area (not to mention the punk, roots and hip-hop acts making waves).

What really grabs me about the songwriter scene is that every act is drawing from different sounds and influences. Of course there are tons of classic voices and coffee shop troubadours, but there are some talents (like Dan Ledwell) you can't ignore and artists that are pushing the boundaries of the timeless genre (like the haunting folk of Ghost Bees or the orchestral elegance of Fall Horsie).

Somewhere tucked in the middle of all that is Paper Beat Scissors. Driven by the bedroom compositions and voice of Tim Crabtree, PBS a rotating collective of guest musicians that creates a beautiful blend of acoustics, electronics and countless other instruments. The structure of his four song EP is heavily influenced by melancholic, acoustic work and as a result is instantly accessible, but the songs are spiked with beautiful strings (Flicker), harmonies, horns and interesting electronic flourishes (the stellar Be Patient).

When I first started listening, I couldn't find much information on the band but it made perfect sense that Tim has been working with Ryan Veltmeyer (of I See Rowboats - RIP), because the builds, transitions and layers really remind me of the powerful performances ISR was delivering before they called it quits. I know Flicker is a slight four song, home recorded debut but Paper Beat Scissors hit a home run. Intimate at just the right moments, but bold enough to run across larger soundscapes, these are the types of songs that become lodged in your brain. The emotions they present are honest and I only see Tim and his rotating cast of supporting players getting better and more popular.

For any of you looking to buy the EP, contact Tim directly - paperbeatscissors AT gmail DOTCOM - and he can help you get a handmade hard copy ($7) or an electronic download ($3).

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday Funbag:: Gentleman Reg, Carbon Dating Service, The SamRyan Band

The last few weeks have flown by for some reason. I guess with work kicking my ass, it seems like every time I blink, a few more days have passed. Basically, I haven’t had time to talk about all the records I wanted to (let alone focus on some other more important things), especially not to the depth that we prefer here on herohill.

So, to right some wrongs, here are some records that I really should have been on herohill already:

Gentleman Reg – Jet Black || web site

Reg’s back story is a long and interesting one (and one that's been typed out far too many times to repeat here), and his first big release – Jet Black – lives up to all expectations. The songs build off of scattered beats, crunching, college rock guitars and his unique voice, but he also takes a few big chances on his first release to escape the borders of Canada.

We're In A Thunderstorm uses some harmonics but is dominated by a dark, pulsing club beat and he pays tribute to one of his favorite bands (Valentines) with the powerful piano ballad Rewind. Basically, Reg has taken years to get to this point and be comfortable with who he is musically and as a human being and Jet Black oozes that security and confidence. He trimmed the song length for most of the tracks to about 3-minutes, received support from some of his friends (Liz Powell - who was in Valentines and Katie Sketch) and built on the experience that only comes with time.

The listeners definitely benefit from all he’s been through, and with the support of A & C, Reg might finally start getting some of the attention so often showered on the folks he runs with.

Carbon Dating Service – Reliquiae || myspace

Saskatchewan’s Carbon Dating Service is another one of those sprawling 8-piece outfits, but instead of assaulting your ears with soaring epics and builds, they prefer more intimate, warm tracks layered with the subtleties courtesy of the unique the sounds of the trombones, flugelhorn, harp, viola, synthesizers, thumb piano, and banjo.

The new record – Reliquiae –finds the band trying to blend the perfect sonic cocktail from classical, jazz, lo-fi rock and any other sound that catches their ears, but it’s the deft touch CDS uses to gently sway the melodies that draw you in. Unlike so many huge bands, they don't rely on bigger is better and prefer to control the pace off the record so when they add intensity and impact (like the chaos on Mountain Crime) it’s for point, not pleasure.

The Sam Ryan Band || myspace

With a name like The SamRyan Band, you cna't help but visualize a confident front man, leading a train of talented musicians through soulful R&B and heavy, heavy blues guitar riff. Instead the name is much more literal. The SamRyan Band is a folk duo from Halifax, consisting of Sam Lee and Ryan Laite.

The duo is still in it's nascent stages, but the harmonic Jose Gonzales influenced folk guitar (White Ceiling) is intriguing and vocals mesh together well. Throw in the fact these two tracks featured Hey Rosetta!'s Romesh Thavanathan (cello) and Josh Ward (mandolin/vox) and you have to assume the band will start popping up on show lineups really soon.

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BOX:: All-Canadian Edition Vol. 3

It's been a few months since we've done an all-Canadian edition of our semi-regular rap song round up here at the hill, and really that's too long. I'm calling it all-Canadian, but really, it's all-Toronto, as all of these jams originate from the screwface capital. Usually I can sneak at least one track from Alberta or something in there, but not this time, it's all T-dot, all the time. I don't mind, I did live there for nearly seven years after all, but we always like to rep for all of Canada here at the hill. So come on other provinces, send us your hip hop songs so they can get the BOX treatment they so rightfully deserve.

Right then, on with the show. We've got a pretty strong group of Canadian/Toronto songs here, so let's get to them.

Tona calls Scarborough home, but hails originally from Ghana. He's not a new jack, as it seems he's been in the game since his teens. That's pretty much the extent of my Tona knowledge, but I can say it seems it approaches his music in an honest way, trying to steer clear of the flossy nonsense in vogue right now. This track right here has a big cinematic beat and features Tona proclaiming himself to be a major talent, with or without label assistance. Lyrically Tona doesn't blow me away, but he has a confident, no-nonsense style that I like. This is a pretty good jam.

I've had this song since I think right after I did the last all-Canadian edition last year, so my apologies to the Tru-Paz for not getting this up earlier, but I was saving it. I'm a bit more familiar with the Tru-Paz from my time in TO, but I have to say I had some picture of them as super hardcore dudes in army fatigues, but I think I'm confusing their name with someone else. Anyway, this earnest, reggae-tinged anthem is not what I was expecting, but I like it. This song here is the remix featuring TO reggae master Blessed and it's hard to deny the urgency the combo creates. This is the kind of song old grumpy Juno types that complain about negative hip hop should hear. Well they wouldn't understand any of it, but still.

Empire is a big-ass crew from TO, also known as the Fifth Letter Fam. I hadn't heard of them, but we've been sent about 3 different songs from them over the last couple months, so I finally got around to checking them out. I like Impossible a lot, the beat is solid, and the MC's do fine work telling their stories of going for theirs in the rap biz. No Where is also pretty solid (is it just me, or does it sound a lot like this one here from Spesh K?) with some similar, introspective subject matter. The other songs on their myspace are a little bit on the "I will do you physical harm up in the club" tip, and I don't go in as much for those these days, but I like these songs, for what that's worth.

I've talked about Louwop a couple times on the hill, so I'm going to let you check out those posts if you want more detail on what he's about. I'll just say that I think he's a great MC who rhymes with the kind of hunger, and with the kind of subject matter, that any golden age aficionado would appreciate. This song is a remix of a track from his last release, The Great Escape, and it features fellow Torontonians Roach Uno and Theo 3. Good stuff.

I've also written about D-Sisive a number of times, just in the last year alone, as I'm a big fan of his, so even though I was surprised by the direction he's taken with this new, I shouldn't have been. After all, considering some of his most recent work found him sampling Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, I shouldn't be shocked to hear him crooning the chorus of his new track over a guitar-heavy beat. It's different, but it's good, so I'm intrigued to hear what his full length, Let The Children Die, is going to sound like.

Bonus Time:

I needed some non-TO content on here, and so, although he currently lives in Toronto, Wordburglar is Halifax through and through. This is some kind of alternative Canadian anthem he did for CBC radio show GO, and like most of the WB's work, it's enjoyable. After all, any song that features cuts by DJ Moose Donair and a shoutout to Roch Voisine, is pretty excellent by default. Plus he keeps it Riel, and that's always a plus.


TONA f. Tenisha - MAJOR

Tru-Paz - Young Nation

Empire - Impossible

Empire ft. Jay NY "Impossible" Directed by: The Sharpshooter from The Sharpshooter on Vimeo.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Stingray of the Day:: Black Hat Brigade - Zombie City Shake

Take one...

...and I'll take two...

...this one, it's not for you

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Reviews:: The Weather Station The Line


As you sift through the songs on Tamara Lindeman’s new record, The Line, you are struck by the sadness of the affair. Not the classic melancholy of another “break-up” record (which this could be, but every time I listen I feel like Tamara is expressing something more painful and harder to get past), but the sadness that comes when you see someone losing their innocence and youth and growing up faster than they might want.

Now, I can’t claim to know Tamara or what’s she’s gone through; a few fragmented emails and my take on the songs she writes doesn’t offer the depth to pass judgment on anyone, but when she started this musical project it was to get over her broken heart, and now it’s grown into something completely different over the last few years. Her music no longer seems like a collection of sounds that scream, “It’s going to be ok” but instead it makes you wonder if Tamara thinks that forgetting those soaring heights and crashing lows is a much safer way to travel.

There are many reasons why, but most obvious is time. Years have passed and the sting of the pain she felt lessens each day, but it’s easy to forget that Tamara wasn’t "technically" a musician when she started this. The last few years have shown her grow as much musically as she has emotionally and now every heartbreaking, painful thought and each musical choice has been debated, deliberated and revisited countless times until it sounds right.

The Weather Station is definitely Tamara’s outlet, but she is surrounded by some talented people who know her and her songs. Simon, Jack and Dwight offer subtle, but crucial flourishes and help make this solo project more accessible. Blasts of static, mandolin, and strings fill out the empty gaps you’d expect from such a somber affair and help spike the record and help the listener relate to these extremely personal stories.

Despite all these changes, she never loses the intimacy and power of her songs, as each emotion is ripe with clarity. Patience and maturity have usurped the freedom of singing simply to get things off her chest. From start to finish, The Line is the result of Tamara taking the time to really think about what she wants to say and how she wants it to be heard. Even the songs that have been carried over from her EP sound wiser, warmer and still somehow wearier, even though in most cases the changes are very minor. Regardless, her voice and arrangements might give us the glimmer of hope she can't seem to find.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reviews:: Great Bloomers Speak of Trouble


Back in ’07, I wrote some very kind words about the Ontario band, the Great Bloomers. Their debut EP was a terrific mix of southern rock, distortion, piano and nicely executed Beach Boys harmonies, but was steeped in potential. Needless to say, I’ve been waiting over a year for a follow up full length – partly because they re-released the EP and partly because the band has been touring the shit out of their songs and tightening the screws so to speak – but honestly I wish more young bands would take a page from that same book.

Their new LP, Speak Of Trouble, is a huge jump in sound for the band and shows a maturity that only comes from hours on stage and in the jam space. They didn’t rush into the studio, trying to grab a stranglehold on any of the positive praise they received, opting instead to produce and release an album when it was ready, not simply when the songs were finished. Speak of Trouble explodes out of the gate with the surging epic energy of Lobbyist. They still expose some of the same Southern rock, but it’s the dazzling piano that twinkles just behind the guitars that really completes the song.

At first I was scared the album might be front loaded, as the first four songs are all can't miss efforts, until I realized they all expose different elements to the Bloomers sound. The Young Ones Slept surges along, letting Lowell's voice grab the spotlight but the crunch and transitions really play well against more terrific piano. Honey Blanket has a country shuffle, but the band adds such a blissful sheen to the song with glistening harmonies and chugging drums and you honestly can’t help but smile and enjoy the three and a half minutes. They even change the tone with a 50’s influenced piano breakdown before jumping back into a gallop and that burst of energy flows nicely into the country jam session, AM radio feel of Daylight.

It’s probably no surprise that this record is fun (just listen to the harmonies on the title track), as the band seems to appreciate the success they’ve had, the people they’ve met and the places they’ve seen. Fever Days is as honest a tribute song as I’ve heard from such a young band. They say thanks without resorting to cheesy sentiments or forced significance and even throw in a little facemelter that doesn’t derail the song.

It’s quite obvious the young band is influenced by some of the greats – The Band, The Beach Boys and an affinity for Sonic Youth’s feedback and distortion come to mind for me – but even subtle tips of the cap come off as respectful instead of aping. The Great Bloomers are working hard to form their own sound and seemed more concerned with writing songs that stand the test of time. A lot of Canadian bands have exploded onto the scene and made some waves with catchy hits lately, but Great Bloomers seems to be setting up to make a career out this, instead of just writing some killer tracks that fade in this digital age.

By the time you reach the album closer - an unpretentious rock anthem that combines piano, guitar and a booming chorus - you can't help but let it repeat. Thorn In My Side acts as the perfect closer (for the record and a live show), as the sing-along chorus will get everyone screaming and as the harmonies fade you'll be left slightly sweaty and smiling as you and some friends walk to the doors after seeing one of your new favorite bands walk offstage after another terrific set.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Reviews:: The Space Between Things Songs About You


Man, talk about getting hit with a wave of lo-fi bliss. Ontario native, Chris Hobson – a.k.a. The Space Between Things – finally released a digital EP, Songs About You, and the blend of static, noise, hiss and melody is remarkably strong. He combines elements that blend into and flow over top of each other (even his vocals shy away from the spotlight, as Hobson keeps them low in the the mix) but never get muddled.

I was listening to the EP this weekend and was quickly won over by the warm textures and white noise he creates, but I couldn’t put my finger on what made these songs stick. Then I read a simple sentence over at It’s Not the Band I Hate, It's Their Fans that really summed it up perfectly:

Too many times have I come across an album that is made to sound like a basement recording, only to be irritated by the fact that the buzz and hiss involved is creating too much of a distraction to be endearing for long periods of time.

Hobson took the time to make these songs lo-fi, but not low rent. He stays true to the aesthetic of a basement session, but doesn’t settle for an unprofessional sound. The result is four songs full of noise and clanks that jut out, but still washes over you with warm, pleasant fuzz. Liquid Thought jump starts the affair, with a pulsing beat and a muffled bass line but Chris throws in just the right amount of chaos to keep the track interesting without becoming disjointed.

The simple guitar that opens Love's On the Run peaks your interest, but it's the melding of fragmented tones that keeps you listening. There is something unsettling that hovers just beneath the surface, leaving you to wonder if Hobson can keep it on the tracks or if it will simply break down. My favorite track is Moving For Protection, which strangely enough is also the most melodic. A warm fuzz balances the acoustic nicely and the taught snare bounces along nicely. He builds the song slowly, letting you settle into the flow of the song before forcing those gentle waves of sound start crashing on the beach.

It will be interesting to see where The Space Between Things ends up... consistently creating lo-fi gems is a tough racket, but these four songs show that Chris Hobson certainly has all the building blocks required to make it work. Again, it's free so what exactly are you waiting for?

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Quick Hitters:: The Papertiger Sound

myspace || web site

When we first talked about Ker, it was behind the strength of the beautiful, stripped down track If You Stayed we included on our New Brunswick Mixtape. The song was built with a gentle picked acoustic, some heartache filled harmonies and little else. So when Kerstin Wilson reached out and told us about another project, I expected something in the some pocket.

Boy was I wrong.

The Papertiger Sound is a rather slick sounding collaboration with Dan Gelder that shimmers instead of creaking. The two met when Ker lived across the pond, and thanks to the power of the internet they've continued to write songs together even though Wilson has returned to Canada.

Their latest EP - tiny robot love – is full of synths and computer blips meshed with acoustic riffs and the whole project has a definite anglophile sound more apt for smoky clubs than intimate bedrooms. The duo uses atmospheric slow builds and subtle chimes to create dream like hazes, but somehow keeps the whole effort grounded.

This EP is a precursor to the full-length The Papertiger Sound is working on, but considering the 5 songs will cost you absolutely nothing, I’d suggest you take the time to listen.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Morning Coffee:: The Peptides

web site || myspace

It's been a while since I posted on a Sunday, but I spent most of yesterday painting and running, so I had some extra time listening to music that was passed along. One record that kept resurfacing was Stereo Stereo from The Peptides.

One look at the Gatineau based band's album cover and web site hammers home a distinct vibe: retro cool. Naturally, you might expect to be transported to a vintage listening room and bombarded with psychedelic sounds and choreographed dance routines. But when you really sit down and listen, you see that The Peptides sounds are much more complex.

Sure, the still drift into dreamy sound scapes and the female vocals, piano and horns that dominate Devine Design stay in the swanky comforts you'd expect, but for me things really start to get interesting when they slow it down. So Slow creeps along, daring you to turn away as Claude and Pam use only some simple strums, harmonies and some chimes to grab your ear. The emotions drips from the track, but so does a confidence that builds throughout the song. They completely erase any of that kitsch you keep expecting to surface and supplant it with honest emotion (just listen to their slowed down, dark, take on Lennon's Jealous Guy).

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Funbag:: Ruth Minnikin & Kelly Sloan

Last night I trooped on down to Gus' Pub to check out Kelly Sloan's CD release show. Her record - Always Changes (review) - is a nicely polished, mature sounding country roots effort, and last night she took the stage with some (ok, a lot) of her friends.

The songs came to life live -thanks to some nice bass lines, accordion, electric guitar and of course Kinley Dowling's fantastic violin- and had a much bigger sound than I expected. Kelly definitely had fun up there, joking with the crowd and her band, but there is no doubt she's a solid performer and hopefully people pick up her record.

I have to be honest though. I was probably more excited to check out Ruth Minnikin since she's sitting on a new record (Depend on This) and I figured she'd have to play a few new ones to warm up the crowd. She did - one based on the classic German folk tale, Bremen Town Musicians that sounded amazing- and she also threw in a terrific Eric's Trip cover (Sun Coming Up)... so I can't complain at all.

All in all, a very impressive night of music from two Halifax female performers.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stingray of the Day:: Grand Analog - Electric City f. Shad

No need to freak out...

...unless you're freaked out...

...I bring the passion back in one freestyle

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Contests:: Win Joel Plaskett's Three - Part Three

So, we’ve reach the final installment of our Joel Plaskett trivia/review effort for the release of Three. Remarkably, the third installment offers up yet another side of Joel, one with a more AM radio feel. The songs take on a more classic feel - avoiding the back beat and horns that push One and the homesickness and loneliness of Two - and showcase Joel’s Nova Scotia pride, but more so than the other collections of Three, this record pushes past the confines of New Scotland and starts to sound like the country we call home.

In theory, all three records can stand on their own, but the shared vocalists and guitar sound really let Joel tie them together nicely. And while they should be looked at as a complete package, I think the final record will be the one embraced by the most fans. Rewind, Rewind, Rewind starts the disk, and sets a playful tone. The bending steel helps Joel look back, but Ana’s vocals and a bouncy piano keep the nostalgic sepia tones from turn into regret and flow nicely into Precious, Precious, Precious. The song bounces along like the back seat of a car cruising down a long dirt road and a sun kissed sparkle starts to shine on the quick hitting ditty. Deny, Deny, Deny benefits from some nice fiddle and lets Joel expose some tried and true Maritime folk chops.

The album closer, On & On & On, offers up some of the most honest words I've heard on record in quite some time. The 12-minute epic shows Joel seeing parts of his parents and his hometown as crucial parts of who he is, missing the people who have come and gone, and as more and more high schoolers forge fake connections through facebook, it's refreshing to hear someone admit that spending two hours listening to him sing every couple of years isn't what a friendship is based on.

But for me, the standout number on the last disc is the Tom Petty/Traveling Wilbury’s feel he creates on One Look. You don’t set out on a 27 song collection without hoping to leave a mark - and the fact that Joel mentions his age a few times, makes you wonder if he's started to take stockof his life - and One Look (and to be fair, Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’ could be received just as well) is the type of song that people will be singing years from now, knowing that no matter how music changes, certain songs and certain sounds never go out of style.

So here are the three questions you need to answer to be entered to win a copy of Joel's record:
Q1) What is the name of Joel's new record label?
Q2) What is the name of the Halifax neighborhood Joel spent his teen years in?
Q3) Name two of the artists featured in the Joel Plaskett curated single series? Hint. They are listed on his label's webpage.

To enter, just send an email with your contact info and the answers to herohill AT gmail DOT COM


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Quick Hitters:: Kelly Sloan & Plushgun

Kelly Sloan - Always Changes || myspace

Up until we reviewed Adam Puddington’s terrific LP, herohill thought of one thing and one thing only when it came to Almonte, Ontario. Although we may be terrible at it, it was a Canadian that invented basketball – Dr. James Naismith, not any of the Rautins clan despite what TSN tries to make you believe – and he called Almonte home.

Like all good roots/country artists, travel and time created new friendships and beautiful music. Adam moved from Almonte to Halifax and befriended The Guthries. Years later, the Murray boys helped him record Back in Town and discovered the talent of another young Almonte songwriter Kelly Sloan (who sang with him on the lovely Two to Tango). Flash forward to today, and the Murray’s play backup and twiddled knobs for Kelly Sloan’s debut record, Always Changes.

As soon as Kelly starts singing, you realize her songs are what you'd expect to find on a debut release. The eleven songs she offers up on Always Changes aren't run-of-the-mill coffee shop ditties, as a maturity swirls around each and every song. With some guidance from the Murrays, Sloan shows a solid understanding of when to add layers to her acoustic (like the horns and electric work on the closing number, Way Back Home) and when to let a simple arrangement carry her voice.

Most of the tracks move at a slower pace, like a summer breeze or carefree thought, and the collage of sounds lets her voice peak your interest instead of trying to grab it. The gentle acoustic of Sophia floats along, but subtle horns, beautiful strings and twinkling piano offer just the right amount of support. The old time feel of Summertime Blues and gentle swoon Only Dance Slow with You are solidified with seamless harmonies and the subtle foot stomp beat of Waiting kick starts the second half of the record, but never crowds the mix.

Kelly is having her CD release show at Gus' Pub tonight. It's only $5 bucks and I think you'll be amazed by the intimacy of her songs and the timelessness of her voice. Although Always Changes had some terrific guests - Kinley Dowling, Dan Ledwell, Adam Baldwin, Ruth Minnikin, Rob Crowell, Serge Samson and The Stables - and Ruth and her bandwagon are opening and will probably grace the stage at some point, this night will shine a spotlight on Ms. Sloan and her strong debut.

Plushgun - Pins & Panzers || myspace
Back in the day, I was a pretty big fan of whatever Tommy Boy Records was laying down. I mean, any hip hop lovin’ Caucasian was down with De La Soul, Stetsasonic, Naughty by Nature and the Biz, but these guys also played host to some of Shane’s favs, like Lord Finesse and Digital Underground (for which he mirrored his dance moves off of).

Well, Tommy Boy may have forgotten about the hip hop legacy it built, but I guess it’s appropriate that one of Tommy Boy’s current acts, Brooklyn’s Daniel Ingala – aka Plushgun – takes me back to those high school memories. Sure, the shimmering keyboard sounds might be more familiar at the high school that Ducky and Molly Ringwald attended than the one I went to, and maybe blazers, Polo and deck shoes may have been the uniform at the school he sings about, but it makes little difference.

As Daniel admits he calls too often or he’ll never make a move, you can’t help but feel your palms clam up. Even though he surround the nervousness with enjoyable electro pop and makes every painful moment sound great, he's able to take the listener back to the time where a day at the pool, the crush that dominated your every thought and a new first kiss meant everything.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Contest:: Win Joel Plaskett's Three - Part 2

When I jokingly suggested to the Ack that we split up Joel Plaskett's new triple opus, with he, the much, much more prolific hill-half, doing of the first and third discs, while I, of the glacial writing speed, would handle the second, there were three things I didn't take into account:

1) That he would agree to it
2) That disc two is the rather serious, "isolated and homesick Joel" one, and that is not usually in my wheelhouse
3) That the Ack would write a novel, which I would have to then follow up on

Well no matter, I really should have anticipated Numbers one and three, as us writing the verbose posts is like Joel bringing his Dad Bill out on stage during a Halifax show: it happens on the regular. But there is a plus side to following the Ack, as I think he's hit the nail square on the head in most of the things he's said about Joel and this ambitious project of his - so as a result, they don't need repeating from yours truly. Now I don't have to repeat them, but this wouldn't be the hill if I didn't do it to some extent.

The Ack opened his second paragraph with this statement: "I’m not sure any Canadian artist has finally tuned their style as well as Joel Plaskett." And I think he's right. When I think of Joel now, one of the main things that comes to mind now is just how comfortable he is in his artistic skin these days. In high school and after, Joel came across as the tall, somewhat shy, and perhaps a little awkward, fourth of Thrush Hermit. But while the height remains, the rest is gone. His vast experience as an artist has transformed him into a supremely confident and comfortable performer, one who is happy with his success, but is even more interested in pursuing art that he considers meaningful and satisfying. Three is the latest result of that pursuit.

Think about it: it takes a bit of chutzpah to release a triple album in today's record buying (cough...downloading) climate. Joel is a shrewd guy, he knows this is a bit of a gamble, but I think he also realizes that he's at a point in his career where the personal fulfillment he feels in doing something like this outweighs what he would stand to gain from trying to just put out one Nowhere With You after another.

But what of Disc 2 then, the reason for this here article (well I'm sure the reason you're here is for the second trivia question down below)? As I mentioned in my second point up above, the slower, more acoustic focused songs found in this portion of the album wouldn't normally be the ones I'd gravitate to. But these heartfelt songs of longing for home and for loved ones, those both far away and lost forever, have a simple honesty that drew me in after a couple listens. Joel has a knack for writing songs that people can relate to, no matter what the subject matter of the song may be. A perfect example of this is Shine On, Shine On, Shine On, which is undoubtably influenced by his time spent touring down under, but the theme of trying to enjoy where you are when you're missing someone is something many of us can relate to.

Despite the serious subject matter found here, I think the collection definitely picks up some momentum in its centre section. Sailors Eyes is one of the few uptempo songs in this section, and it has an adventurous arrangement (what is that in the opening, a lute? I hope it's a lute) to match its tale of dangerous love. Anna Egge's vocals are put to great use on this as well. In contrast to the full sound of Sailors Eyes, the sparse guitar and drum machine jangle of In The Blue Moonlight is just effective, matching the loneliness of the lyrics. Beyond, Beyond, Beyond is an honest and affectionate look at the time Joel spent in Lunenburg before moving to Halifax - it's another one of those songs that tells a specific story, but many people have a similar story to tell. There's something about New Scotland Blues that makes me think it'll be a mainstay in many a Plaskett setlist in the future.

Now, to get to the important bit of this post, the next trivia question:

What is the name of the Halifax neighborhood Joel spent his teen years in?
1) There is a Thrush Hermit record named after it.
2) It is mentioned in Drunk Teenagers.

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Reviews:: Jerry Leger You, Me and the Horse


It would be easy to talk about Jerry Leger and point out the talented musicians already in his corner. Knowing that Ron Sexsmith used to show up at his Toronto gigs, played piano on his last record and called him, "One of the best songwriters I've heard in quite some time" is probably enough praise to get most of you interested. Throw in the fact Josh Finlayson (Skydiggers) and Tim Bovacanti (Sexsmith's band) produced/played on You, Me and the Horse and it's pretty obvious that a lot of people are already championing this young singer.

You can go ahead and add me to that list.

The 23-year old Toronto native’s newest stripped down record will get countless Dylan comparisons – with good reason, as Leger is a classic folk story teller and the barely audible harmonica that closes Looking For A Friend ensures the obvious connection – but when I listen, I am more impressed by the similarities to Tom Brosseau (especially on songs like To The Harbour, Raspberry Bush and Daddy's Lantern). Tossing that name out there won’t appeal to many (maybe only two people that occasionally read this blog), but Brosseau is one of my favorite singers. The way he paints the most detailed pictures and invokes the deepest emotions from the simplest scenarios is gripping and Jerry Leger has that same gift.

You get the feeling that Leger grew up wanting to be a traveling story teller, romanticizing the idea of a wandering hobo and dissecting Dylan's poetry and that's why I think Leger's stories seem real. The songs are filled with the minor details you pick up from snippets of a conversation overheard at a diner, not from hours staring at a pad. There are only so many chords you can play and only so many metaphors to go around. Eventually it all comes down to the story you tell, not the phrase you turn, and for such a young man, it's amazing that Leger already has the confidence and charisma to stand behind his tales.

You, Me and the Horse shows Leger taking a step away from his band and working with the most spare arrangements. Well placed fiddle, steel and upright bass offer a shoulder to lean on, but for the most part Leger stands front and center and quietly tells his tales. That's why I shook my head when one of our nation's biggest music resources said, "The tunes aren't sub-par, but they're not particularly catchy or good, either". I couldn't help but think they missed the point of this record completely.

First, Leger does pen some catchy tunes (the country fueled romp Half Asleep And Drunk sticks in your head and the harmonies, bended steel and confident strums of Love's Abandoned Your Heart is beautiful), but more importantly, his songs are not the type of songs you play for a room full of people, hoping one sticks. His nasally draw and unfiltered admissions are more suited for a more personal listening experience; a rewarding one at that.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Contest:: Win three signed copies of Joel Plaskett's Three

When it comes to the East Coast music scene, I'm not sure there is going to be a bigger release - in scope and anticipation - than Joel Plaskett's new record Three. Twenty-seven songs full of classic Joel and the Emergency sounds, but chock-o-block full of surprises and bigger, bolder arrangements. At the end of the day, Plaskett's biggest undertaking might end up being his most appreciated success.

To celebrate, we have three copies of Three - signed by Joel to giveaway. We are going to feature one record - (9 songs on each) for the next three days, and also include a trivia question. When you know all three answers, email us [herohill AT gmail DOT COM] to enter.


I know, I know. Right now all you haters are thinking, "Big deal. A review from herohill. You went to high school with the dude, of course you like him." Well, while that might be true, for a long time I actually leaned on the opposite side of that equation. I figured I listened to Joel because we used to head to class together and I watched him almost break his face trying a hand plant. It wasn’t until I started just listening to Joel simply as a song writer that I realized how talented he is.

I’m not sure any Canadian artist has finally tuned their style as well as Joel Plaskett. His unique palette of influence and inspiration blends an appreciation of the history of music – fiddle, vinyl, country, R & B, the constant themes of being home and traveling the world – but avoids any of the pitfalls that plague artists that rely on the past by keeping his songs upbeat and energetic. He splices tradition with drum machines beats, crunching indie inspired riffs and clever word poetry, and as a result he’s able to expose fans to musicians long since forgotten without alienating people who fell in love with his previous efforts.

Honestly, spend five minutes with the guy and you get the feeling that Joel is as happy to talk to you about the honor of recording in Willie Nelson’s studio as he is about crafting a hook for Classified. That love of music makes it impossible to question the sincerity of his songs, which is a good thing, because his latest opus – the appropriately titled Three – offers up 27 songs and on first glance you almost can't help but think about filler. Bands go a career without writing 27 good songs, let alone trying to package them for consumption in one sitting. Long story short though... Plaskett pulls it off, offering almost no tracks that you feel the need to skip over and tons that stand up against any of his catalog.

There are a few singers - Springsteen, John Mellancamp for example - that seem to find the exact words to represent their hometown, and Joel has crafted his voice to speak for Nova Scotia (and Canada really) and transport our ocean home to other locations. Normally you might stumble over lyrics like, “It’s a long long way to Winnipeg………. And I ain’t to proud to shake a leg, sing for my supper now crack me an egg” (Wishful Thoughts), but Plaskett makes those words just... fit... and forces you into the warming backing vocals, back beat and darting electric guitar of the road ready anthem.

Three explodes out of the gate with the country-fried electric guitar and a pulsing back beat of Every Time You Leave, but it’s when the backing vocals from Ana Egge and Rose Cousins (it must be said across the three LPs, they do a spectacular job – just listen to Gone, Gone, Gone for proof) kick in that you get hooked. Joel and the Emergency have always maintained a compact style, but the arrangements really bolster their sound and that energy continues into the lead single Through & Through & Through.

I always find Joel the most successful when he’s a bit playful on his records, and you can picture Joel and the girl’s smiling in the studio when they recorded this track. His salt of the earth comparisons hit the mark - “You be April Stevens, I’ll be April Wine” and “I will man my post, but I won’t do what I’m told” – and little things like how he bleeps out a curse with quick horns make it impossible to not like the track. But Disk One – as it is labeled – is not all horns and licks. Pine, Pine, Pine jumps into the Maritime folk driven sound Joel is so comfortable delivering, but this time around it’s bulked up by steel, drums, fiddle and some backing vocals. Wait, Wait, Wait adds more steel and horns to give the sleepy, country anthem a jump in its step, without taking away from the melancholic admissions Plaskett offers up.

It’s not surprising that Joel seems to focus on "leaving" for the majority of the first record. He’s reached the point where his life – well, as best as it can when he has to constantly hit the road – is settled here in Nova Scotia, but he’s also reached the age where you can’t help but wonder why worked out the way it did. When you call a different city home for half the year, constantly see your friends leaving and have to say goodbye before piling into the van night after night, you can’t help but feel the grind, miss the smells of home or wonder why you still spend so many hours watching the odometer turn. Luckily for fans, Plaskett channels the feeling of being lost perfectly and on the first 9 songs of Three he turns a lot of those road weary images into a collection of playful and poignant metaphors about love and loss.

Trivia question I - What is the name of Joel's new record label?

**The second question can be found here**
**The third question can be found here**

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Stingray of the Day:: The Paper Cranes Telephone

Just Hold Your Breath...

Till I'm Out of the Picture.

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Reviews:: The Burning Hell Baby

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A few months ago, The Burning Hell came to Halifax and really blew me away. I already enjoyed Matthias’ ukulele ditties – and yes, made the obligatory Stephin Merritt comparisons – but when the band crowded on the small stage at Gus’ Pub, the energy, excitement and enjoyment was unreal. That energy really carries over onto the band’s new Weewerk release, Baby.

As the title implies, Kom somehow manages to create a collection of songs that touch on the childish and naïve, but still appeal to adults by showcasing his quick wit and cynicism. One listen to the infectious melody of The Things That People Make, Part 2 draws you in, but it’s the playfulness that is so important.

You be the dictator, I'll be the oppressed.
You be the baby bird, I'll be the regurgitated worm.
You be the frat boy, I'll be the guitar.

Wit has always been Kom’s biggest song writing strength. He builds narratives laced with clever wordplay and complex emotions from some of the simplest ideas, but this time around it seems like the band really came together. Sure, Kom still drops a few classic sounding tracks (Animal Hides and of course a continuation of the trilogy of murder ballads with, Grave Situation, Part 3), but for the most part the the songs are packed with new textures and a density.

Whether it's a interesting hybrid between tropical vibes and Mariachi inspired riffs (Precious Island) or the piano and dancing mandolin really help fill out the swagger of the infectious The Berlin Conference, the ramshackle collection of sounds add intensity to the songs. The subtle harmonica and group vocals of Berlin Conference transform the song with a nice breakdown, but the track never loses momentum and surges forward confidently until breaking into full stride for the last 90 seconds of the song and the band keeps up the energy with the drum machine heavy, “club folk” infused When the World Ends.

Honestly, the record constantly surprised me.

throws in some organ and horns to spike the tempo, but it’s the chorus (that would fit nicely into a catchy alt-country track) that sticks in your brain. Everything Will Probably Be OK starts as a classic sounding duet with Jenny Omnichord, but the back beat transforms the sound into a Casiotone for the Painfully Alone inspired battle between positive nonsense & inspiration from Jenny ("tomorrow is just another word for today", "you've got to lighten up to make it through the year") and Matthius' painful ennui. If you played the song for someone unfamiliar with Kom’s songs, they would probably give you a confused (or disgusted) face, but as the 7-minute track rolls on, the ends of their mouth would start to turn up and their feet would start tapping.

Really the fact you can't help but like the songs is probably the best way to sum up Baby. Fans will love it - it stays true to what you expect and love about the uke driven troubadour but moves more towards the energy and unashamed fun they deliver in a live setting - but the infectious melodies will win over new fans as well. Win, win if you ask me.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Reviews:: Melissa McClelland Victoria Day

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It really has to be said… Six Shooter records is starting off '09 with a bang (hi-yo!). First the lovely Jenn Grant record (review) and of course the non stop party that is the Shout Out Out Out Out (review), but it’s their latest release that has really found a home in my play list.

Melissa McClelland
’s Victoria Day is a wonderful slice of Canadian twang meets Dixieland blues but even with those two stabilizing foundations, she still manages to fuse in 50’s goodness, dreamy melodies, tender piano and surprisingly heavy guitar work. While that might sound like a lot (and admittedly, the horns that distract from the otherwise stellar When The Lights Went Out in Hogtown), McClelland’s voice and swagger power through and are as piercing as her big, beautiful eyes. That purity and power is why she's just as successful and enjoyable when she strips away any access and sings to you intimately.

On a glance, you might expect a steady diet of cutesy folk ditties to escape her mouth, but that demure image is quickly put to rest as the bluesy grit of the first single, Glen Rio, takes off. With clever wordplay – “faster than your sister gives it all away”, McClelland uses keep time percussion and heavy blues guitar and some slide to transport us back to a dirty bar in the Dustbowl or the Deep South and transform her persona into that of a bar room rebel. By the time the well placed harmonies kick in you are already hooked, nodding or stomping along uncontrollably.

She hits some unbelievable highs on Victoria Day. The honesty and gentle build of the soulful duet with Ron Sexsmith (Seasoned Lovers) is breathtaking, and the New Orleans dance party ready Victoria Day (May Flowers) is the type of song that you almost expect the people around you to break into Swing routines. The stripped down Brake is one of those narratives that instantly consumes you. That's the thing about Victoria Day I guess... Melissa's retro sounds seem so authentic that the record feels like a collection of songs you think you already know and love.

I’d be remiss not to mention how beneficial the deft touch of husband/producer Luke Doucet is to the strength of Victoria Day. He really beefs up the sounds at just the right times – like the rollicking electric work on Money Shot, but makes sure that any of the textures or emotions overpowers the effort. Even the heaviest is guitar on Money Shot is balanced by a country choir feel. Uptempo grit is paired nicely with slow waltzes (Cry On My Shoulder) getting the record crisp and exciting. With the spring finally starting to surface, these songs are going to be perfect for sunny drives or a back porch get together.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Quick Hitters:: Vangel - Biblio

I'll be quite honest, I got Vangel's new EP in the mail a while ago, but I had no idea what to make of it. It arrived out of the blue, I had no idea who it was from, it was packaged in an old 5 & a quarter floppy disc, and it was described thusly:

Biblio: a smooth and rich sounding journey that teeters on the edge of elevator music and avant-garde pop genius.

I gave it the ole what the deuce? But I listened to it, and was pretty into what I heard. But like many an album before it that has entered the wasteland that is the two small "ToDo" piles of CD's on my desk, I didn't get a post done for it. The yesterday we received an email from 5 & 1/4 records (ahhh, the packaging, it makes sense now), about DJ/producer ProF, and after we used the accompanying song as yesterday's SOTD, I decided to dig out Biblio again.

Vangel is a Toronto-based producer that might've started out making beats that were more on the hip hop side of the electro-spectrum, but Biblio pulls in sights and musical sounds from anywhere and everywhere. The one constant seems to be crashing drums, which keep hip hop thoughts close at hand, but each of the five tracks shoot off in a different direction. Opener Cold Rain mixes electric guitar strums with a frantic drum track and some mandolin-ish strums before some mournful vocals are added. The solidly named Broken Jazz Hands starts with a horn you'd associate with a Parisian jazz cafe before the drum & bells track it becomes suggest a better title might be Broken Acid Jazz Hands (see what I did there). Elevator Talk starts out like a latin jam, before it morphs into a guitar & sax jazz-out.

So if you're looking for some interesting, hip hop flavoured, jazz and everything else-influenced instrumental music, Vangel just might be fors you.

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Reviews:: The Darling DeMaes A User’s Guide To Raising The Dead (Songs for Spring)

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Right now you are probably sick of reading tweets like, "SXSW is amazing", "I just saw the Ting Tings 3X!!!!", "standing beside Yeezy and Frodo" or "hungover but breakfast tacos are mmmmm." It's pretty obvious that the wheels that turn the music blog world grind to a halt for the few days that Texas hosts 90% of the music nerds and indie rocking bands. But fear not my friend, this little Canadian outfit soldiers on, and what a treat we have for you today.

Montreal’s The Darling DeMaes are one of Canada’s best kept secrets; somehow equally playful and sinister, the band grabs your attention and never lets go. They take their name from former Czech high diver turned porn star Lea De Mae and the tragic life she led is the perfect symbol to describe the band. The gorgeous woman seemed to have it all before spinal injuries crushed her Olympic high dive dreams, and after turning to adult films for cash a brain tumor derailed her successful porn career and eventually ended her life. The darkness that lived inside and seemed to follow Lea also dominates the songs The Darling Demaes create.

The gentle strums of acoustics and girl/boy harmonies that dominate A User’s Guide To Raising The Dead (Songs for Spring), fool you into thinking this Montreal outfit is a 60’s inspired folk act, but when you actually sit and digest the tracks it’s the energy and darkness that permeates from the songs that fuels the listen. Erik Virtanen’s pen drives the band, but the way the musicians play off each other and move perfectly alongside each emotion are what really adds the punch the nourish themes deserve. Virtanen writes songs for the broken, the forgotten and the tragic, but the band effortlessly crafts melodies for that inspire you with joyful bliss.

Some of the most ear pleasing melodies host the saddest thoughts, making each listen multi-layered and more powerful. Teenage Mother is full of shimmering oohs and Tasha’s beautiful voice, and you almost feel bad singing along so happily to the sadness. Girl Soliders somehow seems restrained and soaring at the same time… the subtleties are still there and compliment the tale of women fighting a man’s war, but the melody floats beautifully and benefits from Erik's lovely falsetto.

For me though, Stomach Ghost is the perfect song to describe why this band is so powerful and promising. The 50’s feel and summery vocals might make you swoon, but Erik Virtanen’s words are about the pain of a couple getting an abortion and the explosion of horns and drums help mirror the torment he and Tasha sing about, and while that may seem a bit bleak, it’s exactly that dichotomy that makes this song work.

I wish I had heard about this record last year when it surfaced in November. It would have skyrocketed up my Best-of List and honestly, I’ve listened to nothing else since I picked it up. I’m not sure if being the next big thing from Montreal is quickly becoming the Canadian equivalent of being the next hot band on Stereogum, but The Darling DeMaes are talented and unique enough to take over the Canadian indie scene. This record is a must have.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reviews:: Justis - Just Is

If you aren't as old as some of us around here, you'd likely be forgiven for not knowing there was once a very strong and very active connection between Jazz and hip hop. Not to say that some connection between the two doesn't remain, but once upon a time the biggest acts in the game, like Tribe and Gangstarr made Jazz a pretty regular, and overt, part of their sound. And the biggest names in Jazz took an interest in hip hop as well, with some even doing some collaboration, like the Branford Marsalis-helmed project I mentioned in yesterdays OSM, Buckshot LeFonque, which featured DJ Premier production, and rhymes from rapper Uptown.

But hip hop has changed (for better of worse depends on what side of the ridiculously large, iced-out medallion you reside on), and I, for one, had assumed that the connection between hip hop and Jazz was a thing of the past. Well, it seems I might've been wrong about that. There are signs that jazz is making a welcome return to hip hop production. Last week I reviewed Dragon Fli Empire's new album, Redefine, and there was jazz influence aplenty to be found there. There's even more jazzmatazz this week, as I bring you the sounds of young Canadian rapper Justis and his full length debut from last year: Just Is.

Somehow I missed Just Is when it dropped, but I'm certainly glad it was brought to my attention. Although still relatively young, mid twenties from what I gather, Justis has the charisma and flow of someone that's been doing this for a long time. He's adept at uptempo tracks that celebrate hip hop, like the three songs that open the album: I Am Hip Hop, Down, and Get It Right. But like many of us, Justin Vail also uses hip hop as an outlet to escape the monotony of his day to day, as thoughtful, passionate songs like Tryin' To Live, Power of One, Music For A Rainy Day clearly show.

Those are all solid songs, but it's the aptly-named Jazz Music that I'd have to tab as my highlight. It has a cool, dark-sounding intro but once the keys come in it becomes a sunnier ode to the Jazz musicians Justis clearly has an affection for. And I buy it, it doesn't just sound like someone dropping Jazz-names - it sounds like a real appreciation for the genre. There are other highlights too, like I Am Hip Hop which is a rundown of Justis' devotion to hip hop over a solid beat with some nice horns on the hooks, it sounds like a sped up version of something Tribe might've done. Get It Right is another nice beat, with thick drums and some female vocal snippets, it also features a verse from Mantis, who Justis will be doing a collab with for his next release. Just rocks a doubletime rhyme scheme on Let It Ride that, if I'm being honest, isn't my favorite, but the track has a nice beat (that I know I recognize from somewhere), and he slyly references the Outkast song ("Got up, got out and rocked something") that blew up on the hill recently.

There's a lot to like about Just Is, not the least of which is how listenable it is - it goes down pretty smooth. If I had any complaint, it would be that things get a little same-y by the end of the album - it would benefit from a bit more variance in the types of beats and lyric content. But that is really small potatoes, as the songs stay pretty strong all the way through from one to fifteen, and that is impressive in today's hip hop climate. So there you go, jazz in hip hop isn't a thing of the past, and one of the best examples is from a hungry young Canadian MC. Have to like that.

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Reviews:: Mike Evin Good Watermelon

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Somewhere between Ben Folds and Schoolhouse Rocks lies Montreal’s Mike Evin. While it might sound like a throw away comparison to mention any pop piano tunesmith in the same breath as Mr. Folds, I don’t mean that Evin necessarily sounds like Ben (although at times he does). No, it's the way Evin and Folds share the same ability to maintain that delicate balance between accessibility, wit, child like whimsy and sincere honesty.

That honestly is exemplified by the spontaneous recording of Good Watermelon (out on Just Friends on April 14th). Mike and his friends – including Montreal’s Ideal Lovers, Angela Desveaux, Andy Creeggan and Emma Baxter – jammed into a studio and let er rip. His live to tape sound is laced with shouts, claps, ramshackle noises and most importantly, happiness. Mike’s performance isn’t controlled by studio magic and precisions. You can feel his heart and soul soul when he and his friends break into jams Piano Top or Should We Dance, but if you didn’t believe in what Mike was singing, a simple story about Good Watermelon would seem hokey and tender ballads like Goodnight Crickets, Me and My Love would seem contrived.

Instead, you let Evin’s spirit encompass the room and just enjoy his songs for what they are. Whether he’s singing about a childhood family trip or deconstructing a pop song, you just let go and listen. The songs somehow feel intimate, like a private conversation, but also make you want to sing-along and when it comes to being a charismatic piano man, in my opinion, that’s what it’s all about.


Mike Evin - Great Pop Song
Good Watermelon (backyard jammy jam)

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Quick hitters:: The Liptonians

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When we first stumbled upon The Liptonians, it was courtesy of the bouncing piano pop track Charlie’s Back. That song was one of the last entries on our Manitoba mixtape and after soaking in the shimmering piano ditty, we waited patiently for the band to send over their self-titled release. I kind of expected a collection of twinkled ivories, boomed horns and energy that topped the meter, and while the instruments that make up the tracks are pretty consistent, the record is more subdued and measured.

The majority of the record plays to the grays in life; internalization, heartbreak, and melancholy but The Liptonians never let the record fall into the rut of sadness. Front man Matt Schellenberg and multi-instrumentalist Bucky Driedger drive this Winnipeg based band, but get tons of support from some talented friends and splice in horns, bass, and a myriad of noise makers and backing singers. They take the time to kick start slow movers like Write Your Name in the Sand and Twenty Dollars with blasts of guitar, distortion, but are just as successful when they let a sad sorry speak for itself (on the rootsy Our Better Days) or venture into quirky numbers like Miss Unaffected.

If you heard Charlie’s Back! and rushed out to get your fill of piano pop, you might be caught off guard by this record, but really, the strength of the band is the subtleties and a mature confidence. Instead of songs that jump out of the speakers, you are treated to a collection of songs that are consistently enjoyable. The Liptonians opt not to overreach for those soaring heights, and as a result never stumble into unrecoverable lows and give the listener eleven solid tracks.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Reviews:: A night with the Great Lake Swimmers & Kate Maki

If you looked at the Great Lake Swimmers show as one of those movies that flashes back from a crucial point, you’d probably have to start at the unexpected standing ovation given to Tony and his band. From the wooden pews of the beautiful church, people jumped to their feet and showed their gratitude for the show we had just witnessed. While this might be a common occurrence in other cities, they are few and far between in the city by the sea.

The evening started with Kate Maki – a one time Halifax native – warming up the crowd. Being a fan of her last record, I was happy to sit through her tender acoustic tracks, but when she pulled former Guthries, Ruth Minnikin, Serge Samson and Brian Murray to play with her, the set was instantly fused with energy. Kate was playful, often asking the crowd to be more vocal – assuring us all that just because we were in a church didn’t mean we couldn’t talk – and the thicker sound of classics like Blue Morning, To Please and White Noise really helped the crowd stay attentive. Ending it with a Neil Young, crowd sing-along didn’t hurt either.

But undoubtedly, the crowd was there for the Great Lake Swimmers. For many artists, the setting would be daunting, even overwhelming but for Dekker and the rest of the Great Lake Swimmers, the acoustics and majesty of the setting seemed to match their sound perfectly. When I was talking to him earlier in the day (listen to the interview here), he mentioned that they are trying to play in more building with unique acoustics on this tour, and that comfort level was obvious.

For most of the fans in attendance, it was a chance to finally hear material from Lost Channels (review here) and see how the old songs would sound with the support of a bigger band. Dekker is a perfect front man for this type of setting: unassuming, charming and immensely talented. The lights cast long shadows over his slender frame, but the new band provides tons of support for his quiet demeanor. Julie Fader’s keys, piano and backing vocals lightly echoed around the church and the percussion, stand up bass and banjo really crackled.

Tracks like Pulling On a Line, She Comes to Me In Dreams and Palmistry – in all its REM goodness – exploded from the speakers, but Dekker also stripped back all the layers on new songs like Still and Concrete Heart and offered a bit on insight as to their origins (who knew that Concrete Heart was a commissioned song about Toronto architecture from 1950-1970?). More importantly, you can tell the band appreciated the show and had a good time playing as there were as many smiles on stage as there were popping up on faces in the crowd.

It was pretty nice to see the band rework some classic tracks too. Dekker got the crowd to stamp along to a rollicking version of Your Rocky Spine and I barely recognized the new, spirited version of I Am Part of a Large Family. Honestly, GLS are already on their way – a solid back catalog and major label support – but with this new setup, the energy and strength of Lost Channels and a live show that will satisfy the long time fan and casual listener, they might be on their way to becoming a household name.


Kate Maki - Blue Morning

Great Lake Swimmers - Palmistry

Great Lake Swimmers - Your Rocky Spine

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reviews:: The Lodge Take That Devil


Right now, hundreds of angry bloggers are collectively losing their shit because the hype machine is only posting the Top 100 blogs on the front page of the site. There are screams for equality and demands for a revolution. In reality, most of the people that visit herohill from stay for exactly one second... just long enough to download the track and move on, so while we might miss the traffic, I don't think we'd lose any of our audience.

It’s no secret that 95% of the shit we post on is never going to be popular or embraced by the masses – but if playing fields were equal a post on Halifax’s newest super group, The Lodge, would get us as much traffic as a 7 year old Outkast song. The Lodge is a classic indie rock outfit comprised of some of the seasoned vets of the Hali scene: Mike O’Neil (The Inbreds), Charles Austin (Superfriendz), Cliff Gibb (Thrush Hermit) and Andrew Glencross (Neuseiland and The Euphonic).

I could try to come up with a fresh description of their sound, but when Shane talked about them last year, he hit the nail on the head:

“One chunk, riff filled rocker after another.”

I hesitate to call The Lodge a throw-back, but hot damn does Take That Devil make you remember what music was all about back in the day. For the most part, it’s nothing more than guitar, bass and drums pummeling you for nine songs. Andrew turns his bass up loud enough for everyone to hear – something that seems to be passé these days – and the infectious melodies just warm your heart as they fill your ears.

The record explodes out of the gate like a musical Usain Bolt. World in Me is a heavy, melodic guitar driven track, but Cliff’s drum work really fills out the track. O’Neil’s always been a charismatic vocalist, and even with all the noise going on around him, you can’t help but focus in on what he’s got to say. But they are far from a one-trick pony, as the quartet plays with tempo nicely. Thaw Me Out, Vortex and She’s a Lightbulb (how awesome is the Robert Goulet-like run he adds at the 2:23 mark) showcase a softer side without losing any of the intensity you get from a quick-hitting, garage rocker like Hey, Kids.

Ultimately though, the band saves the best for last as the last third of the record is unstoppable. What Are We Hear For is simply put, sonic bliss and Your Theology is honestly one of the best songs I’ve heard all year. Those 6 minutes would demand repeat listening, if it weren’t for the fact the crunch of Forget the Silence is just as good as its predecessors and waits impatiently in the wings. We’ve already seen the release of some great Halifax recordings – Jenn Grant, Joel Plaskett’s record is almost out the door and is stellar – but The Lodge has drawn a line in the sand, daring local acts to cross it.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reviews:: Maybe Smith Another Murder in the Morning

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Saskatchewan’s music community is one of the most underrated scenes in the country, and the eclectic, chaotic indie rocker Maybe Smith is one of its brightest shining stars. You might remember us debuting Bloopers - the catchy indie pop duet featuring Christine Fellows on vocals - on the Elgaard mixtape, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Maybe Smith – aka Colin Skrapek - has been making super creative music for a long time now, but I think he really hit his stride on his new record, Another Murder in the Morning - out until April 21. The 12-songs use keys, guitars, laptop effects, backing vocals and chaotic transitions to craft extremely hook filled indie rock, but the most impressive thing about the record is how Skrapek bulks up the melodies with powerful emotion and warm blasts of static and fuzz.

The constant shape shifting transforms the record, but his skilled touch keeps the train off the track even when the surges and energy peak. That’s probably because Colin is as comfortable playing the part of the melancholic troubadour (Night and Day) as he is experimenting with quirky shifts or straight ahead riffs, but in almost every case his songs are more of a melting pot of pop influences. The subtle acoustic and croon of Night and Day comes alive thanks to static and sound effects and leads perfectly into the whimsical feel of Treehouse Enthusiasts (the spinning noisemaker is perfect).

Colin says the record is full of “murder, winter and dogs” and while that may be true, he has also infused the songs with life, laughter and childhood memories. Dangerous Games Involving Bodies of Water (Fall & Winter) throws in some Beach Boys like harmonies, hand percussion and a sense of freedom that contrast the greys he sings about. Even the title track - a slow paced, emotive number – uses static, harmonies and keys to give the Jens Lekman-inspired track a fresher sound.

A Walrus with a Gunswordaxe vs. The Big Bang Machine is probably the best example of how complex Colin’s arrangements are. On the surface, the track is a fairly straightforward pop song, but he distorts the pleasantries of some choral vocals with a surging energy, before revisiting an 80's English Nightclub sound and finishing off with a stripped down, singer-songwriter closing verse. Dangerous Games Involving Bodies of Water (Fall & Winter) starts out with a hint of sadness, before changing into a swirling, frantic pop track. I Suck at Photosynthesis explodes into a thumping anthem from its humble lap-pop origin (and retreats to a dark synth outro), and I know these intricate, odd sounding combination of sounds may seem overwhelming, but Shrapek has such a clear vision of what he wants his songs to say that your attention never wavers.

Front to back, Another Murder in the Morning sizzles. It escapes classification, as Skrapek is as likely to sample from Nilsson or Orbison as he is quirky popsters like The Flaming Lips or cover the track with a blissful MBV haze, but never strays too far that he loses his own voice or his own unique style. Not your typical murder ballads or morose tales of loneliness, if we could all make our darkest thoughts sounds this good, the world would be a much better place.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Quick Hitters:: BIGIDEAS


Considering the small size of Halifax West in the mid to late 90s, there are a surprising number of people we went to school with making a go of it musically. Obviously, the Thrush Hermit alumni are the most well known, but when you start looking at the some of the other artists (Ruth and Gabe Minnikin, Andy Patil, and David Christiansen), the list starts to get long and impressive.

The thing that binds these artists together is the fact most play songs (or in bands) that give off either a classic rock or beautiful back porch vibe. When it comes to Halifax ex-pat Bob Mills and his band BIGIDEAS, they aim high and write songs that are more suited for radio waves and arenas than smoky clubs. The new record - Steady State - is full of piano driven anthems and you get the distinct impression the Toronto based quartet isn’t ashamed of the fact they write songs for the masses instead of the people in used clothes and horned rimmed glasses.

Mills is a confident front man, and without question the band prefers to build soaring arrangements. In Line offers up a bouncy bass line, keys and gentle strums of an acoustic, but it’s the power packed in the chorus that makes the song stick. Like another Toronto band that got some heavy airplay a few years back – Pilate Speed – BIGIDEAS manages to blend the line between their Anglo influences and the popular sounds of Canada’s biggest urban centre. Patching Holes booms out of the speaker with some nice electric work and a driving rhythm section but Mills is just as comfortable stripping back the layers and slowing down the tempo (Vanishing Point).

I’ll be completely honest. I’m not really one for arena rock and I only listened to the record because I coached Mills in basketball many, many moons ago, but after a few songs the image of a Junior High kid missing layups vanished and was replaced by one of talented, radio ready performer. I think once people starting hearing this band playing shows in Toronto, they are going to make the jump from big ideas to big crowds and even bigger things.

For our TO readers, here's some info about their CD launch - 20 Mar 2009 21:00 The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, Ontario

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Quick Hitters:: D-Sisive - Nobody With A Notepad

'Tis Friday my friends, and I'm not going to lie to you: last night I had not the time, nor the energy, to write a proper post for today. But that problem was solved in the form of a new single from D-Sisive. Not something you might consider news perhaps, but have you considered this: D-Sisive was namedherohill's #1 Canadian MC last year. And that is, you know, a big deal.

So there you have it, enjoy the melancholy rap stylings of one of the most honest, clever, and talented MC's I've ever come across. If you like what you hear, check out his amazing EP from last year, The Book, and get yourself prepared for his much-anticipated (by me anyway, hopefully by you too now) LP dropping later this year.


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Reviews:: Pamela Brennan One Hundred Photographs

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I’ll admit it. I love the Internet. Not only can Shane and I google almost any classic rap jam from the 87-93 era and be rewarded with a grainy, Rap City logo infused video within seconds, it also provides us with some terrific, unsolicited music from artists who we'd never hear about on our own. I’m not talking about one of those form letters that start with the "hey, I am a huge fan of your blog!!!! I recently read your review of X (note: from two years ago) and think you might be into my new band!"

No, I’m talking about those unassuming emails that are more about loving a band than trying to impress us. In this case, Pamela Brennan wrote us after talking with Jay Clark Reid and casually mentioned he sang on her record, One Hundred Photographs. She didn’t litter the email with, "if you like Jesus, Hendrix, The Beatles, Kanye, T-Pain, Lucinda Williams or music in general, you’ll love me" type statements. No, she just simply asked us to take a listen if we wanted.

Without hearing a note, I got a sense of honesty and down-to-earth sensibility from the Ontario singer, and the fact she was a big fan of the casual roots style Jay delivers only sweetened the deal. My hopes were met as soon as the sax and her honey coated vocals started on Departure. The track floats along with nice strings, guitar and backing vocals – thanks to Jay and Annelise Noronha – and the pleasantness of the track was ... relaxing.

While that might seem like an odd choice of emotion to embrace, Pamela’s style is soothing. Sure, she's a "by-the-numbers" female folk rocker, but the nine songs that make up One Hundred Photographs force your worries to slip away. Her lovely voice is supported nicely with strings, piano, banjo, Rhodes (on the nice, quirky closer - Victoria) and percussion. Sometimes uses a heavy plucked bass line and Jack Breakfast’s ivory twinkling to match Brennan’s admission that "sometimes, I’m free."

Brennan isn’t all sunshine and she makes use of a few darker tracks - she benefits from Paul Aucoin’s mood setting vibraphone on Another Lonely Day and Dream creates that isolation we all crave from these folk rockers- to give the record some depth, but she knows how her bread is buttered. Brennan's style makes for an easy listen, and with everything else getting turned on it's head these days, sometimes something "safe and warm" is all we want.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reviews:: Great Lake Swimmers Lost Channels

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I don’t think there are too many bands I’ve posted on more than Great Lake Swimmers. Whether it’s crafting powerful soundtracks, inspired live shows or fostering a sense of national pride, Tony Dekker and his rotating crew of helping hands write music that I love.

The new record – Lost Channels – continues the tradition of recording in bizarre, isolated locations as the band headed to the Thousand Islands region on Ontario. For a lot of bands that might be nothing more than some filler on a press sheet, but for GLS that trip really formed the core of the record. Lugging gear around on boats and recording in castles, churches and community centers not only inspired the band, it also contributed to the songs. You can sense the energy of the buildings - the creaks of the walls and the ghosts that remain behind - on almost every song. Even the little interlude of the castle bells breaks the record into logical A and B sides.

Strangely enough, even with the isolation, mystery and history that inspired Lost Channels, the record is more energetic, fleshed out and spirited than you’d expect. The album opener, Palmistry, sounds like classic REM and really starts Lost Channels with a bang. Throughout the record, Dekker’s band – Erik Arnesen, Greg Millson, Darcy Yates and the super talented Julie Fader (and some great cameos by Paul Aucoin, Serena Ryder and Bob Egan) – is bolder and seems to be more involved with the sounds they are asked to create.

She Comes To Me In Dreams uses a driving melody and Dekker’s voice to stabilize the song, but the arrangement is jam packed with subtleties and risks. Egan’s pedal steel, deep timbre drums, female harmonies and infectious electric work all make appearances, but never overstay their welcome. These small shifts in sound may seem insignificant to an unfamiliar listener or a natural progression for the band, but they really show an evolution in Tony’s song writing, confidence and trust and make Lost Channels something very special.

The second half of the record is more in line with the atmospheric songs from Dekker’s earlier work. Stealing Tomorrow, Unison Falling Into Harmony and New Light all shine the spotlight on Dekker, but the inspired strums and of Still are the perfect counterpoint to Dekker’s past work. Tony may still be looking for the “whispers in between yells” and want to be “the note that’s unplayed”, but he seems completely comfortable giving his friends the freedom to fill out his songs. Even on some of the most emotional, stripped down tracks – like the beautiful Concrete Heart, they experiment, quite successfully, with strings, harmonies and echoes.

Honestly, Lost Channels is the perfect bridge for long time fans and those eager to soak up the new sounds Tony has to offer. Luckily, Great Lake Swimmers will be playing in another old church – St. Matthew’s - here in Halifax on March. 11th. Kate Maki will try to steal your heart to open things up, so I’d highly suggest getting - Pulling on a Line.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reviews:: Colonial Quarrels The End Was an Honest Mistake


You never want to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes the image that adorns the cover of a record sets the tone perfectly. Such is the case for the debut release from the Colonial Quarrels, The End Was an Honest Mistake.

The classic imagery of a tall ship drifting out to sea amongst the low set clouds - trying to get as far from the city as possible - triggers so many instant emotions. Throw in the fact the title screams heartbreak and regret, and you kind of prep yourself for an album full of beautiful melancholy from a lost man needing an escape.

The New Brunswick band – led by Remi Cormier (of the Peter Parkers) – offers up a collection of roots tracks that heave and sigh, cry, but still rollick and roll. They balance sweet with their sadness, refusing to ignore their penchant for pop or the morose. I absolutely love the way they jump from one of the most uplifting tracks on the record – the country fried, back porch ready Goodwill Baby (What Are You Saying To Me?) - to a track as dark and ominous as a storm cloud rolling in from the ocean. The pedal steel and Chastity Alward’s backing vocals on Gilded Lillies fill the track with atmosphere and regret and Remi’s emotion just pour out.

Unlike so many roots acts these days that think any sign of a smile takes away from the credibility of a song, Colonial Quarrels seem enjoy adding keys or a booming harmonica to give a song a bit of pep. The electric noodling and harmonica on BD Shoes make you move, so does the quick hitting instrumental We Need More Plastic, and Hitch or 2 crunches along nicely. It might not seem like much, but those spikes in tempo lighten the listen, and make emotional ballads like The End Was An Honest Mistake hit even harder.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mailbag:: These Hands, Sam Lowry, Mantasy


First things first... how about some new music from These Hands? Can do. Michael recorded a complete body of work on March 1st/2009 and has sent over the lead track, No Distractions.

I can’t speak for the rest of the appropriately titled - March 1st - but No Distractions is an almost tribal jam. Dark piano chords, a big kick drum and ominous tones replace the pleasantries we embraced on songs like Zoe Montreal, but the way he adds the acoustic guitar that dances in the distance is strangely mesmerizing. As it plays over and over, you can actually feel yourself decompressing and your thoughts starting to consume you.


Sam Lowry paints a grim, but beautiful picture. Honestly, I'm not sure why more people haven't embraced his dark, extremely personal songs, but I'm guessing it's only a matter of time. His baritone vocals remind me of a southern Matt Berninger delivering stark narratives with the honesty of Leonard Cohen.

He's about to release his new record - With/Without - a collection of reworked older material and fresh new ones, half record (in one day) with a new band after only a few rehearsals and the rest just Sam and his trusty guitar. It's gripping, gripping stuff.

He's going to be heading into my old stomping grounds - Pittsburgh - in support of Langhorne Slim. I'm hoping Nicolette goes and takes some killer photos, as Club Cafe is the perfect setting for both young artists.

Here are some of the dates:
Mar 13 @ Club Cafe - Pittsburgh, PA
Mar 14 @ The Grog Shop - Cleveland Heights, OH
Mar 15 @ The Pike Room - Pontiac, MI
Mar 16 @ Schubas Tavern - Chicago, IL


Finally, we have local boys Mantasy. Honestly, with a band name like that and the associated cover art, I was a bit leery of even putting We Killed a Guy in my stereo. I'm not much of crossing punk with spastic, rough new wave styles, nor do I really appreciate cleverness like naming songs "Fuck Sakes" or "Shit Slug", but we will review anything a local band sends us (for better or worse) and surprisingly, I got into some of the tracks on the record.

Don't get me wrong, I couldn't hit >> fast enough on quite a few tracks and it was waaaay too long - 17 tracks is just simply too much for any band to pull off and the band draws from the same sounds a lot - but I was surprised by how listenable this record really ended up being. That might not be the type of compliment the band was looking for, but considering the cover art almost made me throw the record in the trash, it says something. Gorno Mob is catchy, the aforementioned Fuck Sakes (any song that drop Reebok Pumps is ok with me) throws some nice keyboard and the chorus of Meat Legs sticks in your head even if you don't want it to.

They are warming the stage for Monotonix and Myles Deck @ Gus' on May 15th, and I'd wager they will be nutty as fuck.

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Reviews:: Azeda Booth Tubtrek EP

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When it rains it pours I guess. Yesterday, I mentioned a new EP from one of my 2007 favs – Amos the Transparent – and low and behold, now I get to talk about a new EP from a 2008 fav. I stumbled upon Azeda Booth last year when I fell in love with Women, but even though they shared a drummer the Calgary band quickly won me over on their own merit. The beautiful, icy cold ambient sounds of In Flesh Tones probably the most unexpected, pleasant discoveries of the year.

On the flip side of the coin, the new Azeda Booth record - In Flesh Tones - is written for cold secluded nights where every step on the walk home seems like a mile and you pine for anything that can numb the bitter chill. The sounds you hear often seem to move at a glacial pace, despite the complexities of the arrangements. Sure, undercurrents of static electricity run throughout the large mass of sound, but for the most part the Calgary quintet seems happy to let songs evolve slowly and surely.

The band has slimmed down – now a solid three piece instead of a quintet – and expanded their sonic tastes, resulting in the free EP, Tubtrek. They still create ethereal, electro fused post rock, but the new material seems more frantic and electric. The static pulses that ran beneath the melodies are now a more integral part of the arrangement and much more pronounced. Fiji Island Hearts starts with a subtle 80’s gleam, but the band moves away from the slow moving soundscape with bursts and blips dominating the minimal arrangement.

More bursts start Neonate, but the contrasting melodic tones and alternating vocals create a surprising warmth to the track. The trio patiently fills out the track, somehow keeping your ear moving with quick darting notes but soothing the listen with a slow developing crystalline calm. That calm continues of the absolutely stunning Samaon Girls. The five-minute track spends almost two minutes morphing before the band settles into a pulsing current and subtle, but precious melody. The last original number, Squall, shows the band returning to the sounds fans fell in love. The slow moving melody meanders beautifully, but the pulsing drum beat tkeep the track surging forward. The falsetto vocals echo nicely and the atmospheric cloud they create will warm the heart of any fan.

The second half of the EP is a collection of remixes of Flesh Tones tracks. Normally, I think remixes are throwaways, but the people the band tasked with reinventing the songs did a nice job. The Goodhands Team tackles In Red and adds a big kick drum beat and some lovely nature sounds (birds, waves) to the track and the dichotomy works well. Secret Mommy reworks Big Fists, and molds the beautiful melody into more club ready track, speeding up the bpm and adding a more carnival fun house vibe to the track. Will either supplant the originals in my iPod? No, but they take risks and offer a new perspective.

More to my liking is the complete transformation Well was given. The refilled and set in sand mix adds two and a half minutes and lets the song takes on a more tropical vibe, without losing the relaxed atmosphere the icy cold original delivered. I also enjoyed the way Morgan Greenwood stripped the pop feel and hand claps out of First Little Britches and created a darker, more subdued sound.

In short, Tubtrek is the perfect stop gap for anxious Azeda Booth fans. The band shows a nice progression in sound and forge a more cohesive setup. The fact it's free and ripped down for you at 320 kbs in just icing on the cake. Snatch this up an enjoy.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Reviews:: Amos the Transparent My, What Big Teeth You Have...


For any long time reader of herohill, you'll know are quite smitten with Ottawa's Amos the Transparent. We gave them the distinction of #2 on the 2007 Canadian album of the Year list and asked them to open up for The Inbreds reunion show at the herohill Pop Explosion last year. The way Chandler and Wilson melded bedroom pop with anthem ready classic rock was pretty breathtaking, but the thing that made Everything I've Forgotten to Forget stick in my brain was quickly the got to the point and how powerful their statements were.

"The songs are tight, the arrangements crisp and succinct. In most cases, too many cooks spoil the broth and too many guitars spoil the sounds. Huge crescendos are all well and good, but endless meandering that is all too common in today's indie scene is another thing. AtT never wastes a note."

So when Jonathan sent over the songs from the new Amos EP, I was a wee bit excited. My, What Big Teeth You Have is the first new material to surface since their record, and expectations were high. With the success and acclaim the LP got, you could almost expect the band to craft another collection of epics and wait for the praise to come in. Instead, AtT throws the listener a steady diet of nicely executed change ups to keep you guessing, but never fails to deliver on quality.

The first three songs show a very different side of the Ottawa based band. The M.O.B. Catalogue is more inline with something you might expect from Chandler's former band mate, as they explore a much harder edged synths/guitar riff and the EP opener, This Town, is full of distortion and uses a nice build, but they manage to soften the sounds with the nice female backing vocals courtesy of Kate Cooke. She and Chandler's vocals work well together, and help prevent the free flowing build from overpowering the song.

But for me, it's the EPs second song that really shows off the talent of the band. Up, Up & Away lulls you into the comfort of another big bedroom pop track. The childlike freedom you feel as Jonathan repeats, "up, up & away" and the nostalgic look back to some fatherly advice creates a comfortable escape, but around the 2:40 mark the band starts to unravel the threads of our security blanket. Blasts of guitar contrast chimes and the slow kick drums gradually gathers momentum until the band explodes into a chaotic, guitar heavy breakdown. Just when you start to get into the heaviness of the effort, Cooke and Chandler's vocals shimmer revealing another layer to the song before abruptly signing off.

It's not until the last two songs that the band treads on any of the same territory you'd expect from them. Greater Than Consequence might sound like the type of bedroom pop you'd expect from Chandler, but in reality it's a reworked song penned by keyboarder Mark Hyne. It's a song that has evolved with the band, and the simple beautiful strums of an acoustic, layers of strings and keyboard textures, and harmonies (and choral outro) float perfectly into the driving bass line and keep time drums of Lemons. The pleasant sounds provides the support for Jonathan's emotional vocals and really this song is as close as the band comes to revisting the sonic palette they crafted their debut LP.

It's obvious that this isn't the same band that a lot of Canadian music bloggers fell in love with a few years back. No, the new Amos the Transparent is bigger and bolder, and unafraid of risk. It might only be 5-songs, but it shows just how many different paths the band can take and how rewarding each of those path are.

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Quick Hitters:: Shout Out Out Out Out Reintegration Time

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Edmonton’s Shout Out Out Out Out could be the darkest party goers you will ever come across. The sextet layers synths, double drum kits and sound effects into a dance ready package, but when the vocoded vocals show up you get hit with a heavy dose of apocalyptic prophecies that constantly try to battle the onslaught of bumping beats the band delivers.

It’s definitely worth noting that even though the grim subject matter still exists, there is something more uplifting about the release (In the End It's Your Friends for example). The SOOOOs have always managed to keep a gritty realism up front in their sound, but this time around the band beefed up the production and some of the swells and builds they reveal are … dare I say … carefree. Bad Choices is six plus minutes of pure bliss, the title track really shifts into the classic IDM feel, and the angry pseudo old skool raps Cadence Weapon drops makes Coming Home a sure fire indie DJ staple.

If you are looking for a record to jump start your party or get the sweat flying on the dance floor, look no further than Reintegration Time, but don't mistake this Edmonton based outfit for a one-trick pony. There's a lot to digest with this record, and they are certainly more than just another dance-synth band. I really like how San Serac's cameo on One Plus Two Plus Three provides a great Small Sins-like change of pace, letting the band finish up with three of the lightest, most positive sounding tracks (the four minute fade out on Reintegration Time shows the band understanding the energy they just hit you with over the ten tracks and seems to be there simply to let you catch your breath and gather your thoughts).

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Reviews:: Jon-Rae Fletcher Oh, Maria

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We only have so many legs to stand on; family, friends, the people we love and the city we call home. For Jon-Rae Fletcher, over the last year couple of years he has seen most of those pillars crumble and to top it off, his band broke up. On the surface, that might seem as cliché as a beaten down hero losing his dog in the divorce, but you forget that just because musicians create art doesn’t mean their words are scripted.

After the dust settled, Jon-Rae left Toronto and headed back west and Oh, Maria is the stark, honest result. Gone are the soulful riffs that he & The River perfected on Knows What You Need, and in their place are folk tracks laced with emotion and sincerity. His new band – including Kathryn Calder of New Pornographers/Immaculate Machine fame, Ladyhawk’s Darcy Hancock, Crystal Dee Denham and Denver Rawson shaping the mood of the songs with dark trombone – are there to support Jon-Rae, but even when his voice swells the music is more about supporting the mood with subtleties.

Recorded in only four hours, the songs feel more like a conversation than a confessional. Fletcher isn’t always sure how to handle his thoughts, often retreating to near silence or swelling to powerful crescendos instead taking the time to worry about the clarity. While you might get the feeling that means the songs are lacking or rushed, you couldn’t be more wrong. Jon-Rae completely opens up to the listener and the earnest words are some of his most beautiful. Obviously, the end of his relationship shapes Oh, Maria - when he sings, “this is the sound of my heartbreaking in two” on The Sound, you feel the seams of your own heart starting to stretch – but the record exposes so much more.

As Jon-Rae's thoughts meander across the ten-songs and you get the sneaking suspicion this is his way of getting it all off his chest. I wouldn't go as far as saying it's a concept album, but it plays like one of those late night conversations that starts with a reluctant admission and by the time the sun is coming up, the ashtray is littered with untouched cigarettes burned down to the filter and you've revealed - if only for your own sanity - your deepest fears. Fletcher's biggest success on this record is how easily you can imagine these events happening to him, but the common themes of heart break, feeling lost, admitting that it wasn’t always someone else's fault, pointing out what you dislike the most about yourself (The Big Talker), and the exhaustion of trying to keep the train on the tracks transfers to all of us.

Whether it’s intimacy of a gentle touch on the small of her back (City Lights) or how those same hands can be used to hurt or for pleasure (Those Hands), Fletcher doesn't shy away from his strongest emotions but you still want to think that at the end of the day, Jon-Rae will be ok. It will take time, but as the fuzz, piano and horns spike the energy and optimism on the album closer Oh, Maria, you see Fletcher trying to be the bigger - and more importantly, a better - person and get some closure. Selfishly, if turmoil helps Jon-Rae write songs as moving as the 10 he penned for Oh, Maria, I hope that closure isn't just around the corner.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stingray of the Day:: Hey Ocean! - Song About California

"Write a song about California he said...

think I'll write a song about him instead."

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Reviews:: Dinosaur Bones - EP


Sometimes the buzz about a local band is electric. If you scour the MP3 sites or see any show flyers on your walk to work, you start seeing certain bands playing with the big boys and that momentum becomes unstoppable. Soon they are playing every show and with the overwhelming amount of blogs and reviewers out there, that hype becomes a double edged sword.

As Herb Simon said, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” and with hundreds of people telling you to check out the same band and screaming how they will change your life, it's quickly becomes hard to care about something so over saturated. With the way we all digest music, not only do bands have to be in the right place at the right time, they need the right sound for that exact moment because the moment they get is growing smaller by the day. Bands are dismissed before we really have a chance to get excited about them and that obsession dissipates to – at worst - dismissal or - at more commonly - reluctant acceptance.

Yeah, I’ve heard of them. Everybody loves them. They’re okay. ”

So here’s the thing. Dinosaur Bones – a Toronto band, just over a year old – is worth getting excited about. They have the right sound for their moment (fresh, catchy, dark) and with the support they’ve generated in such a short time, you can’t help but think they are ready to explode. More importantly, the buzz created is steadily pulsing heavily through the 416, but it's also creeping all over Canada. They seem to have cut through the apathy with only 18-minutes of music.

The EP is dark and melodic, but still raw enough to give the tracks that bite. They exude a confidence in what they are doing, and the result is a shocking mature and dense sound. The opening track - Royalty - explodes out of the gate with dueling guitars, a rhythm section that hits you like heavyweight body shot, Ben Fox’s confident vocals and a big chorus. Most importantly, you don’t get the feeling that the band sat down and said, “Let’s write a song like the Walkmen or The National.” They manage to sound familiar – drawing on some anglo-influences and adding some of the grit of the city – but are dedetermined to form their own identity.

N.Y.E. shimmers, highlighting Fox’s voice but the melody acts as a superbly cast supporting actor. The drums infuse the song with energy and the guitars, keys and big bass line float along, but never steal the scene from the vocal lines. Most people listen to the sounds and textures first, and then settle into the vocals but on N.Y.E., Dinosaur Bones manage to create a nice sounding spotlight that forces you to pay attention. Even on the soaring My Divider, the atmospheric melody seems to travel side by side with Fox’s vocals, knowing when to take the lead – as it does for the last two-minutes of the song - and when to follow behind.

I know it’s only four songs, but these are solid songs that should peak anyone’s interest. Of course the big step is what comes next, but if these songs and the impact Dinosaur Bones has already made are any indication... it will be somewhere fantastic.

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Reviews:: Shotgun Jimmie - Still Jimmie

Still Jimmie is an appropriate name for the new album from Shotgun Jimmie (aka Jim Killpatrick). Not only does the title contain his name, which I find is always helpful, but it also serves as a little bit of re-assurance for folks who remember Jimmers from his last solo outing The Onlys, and might be a bit taken aback by his latest release.

The difference is apparent right from the get-go, if you have a listen to the lead-off hitters from both albums. Whereas The Onlys opened with Duet, one of the most fun and whimsical songs you could hope to discover on an indie rock record, Still Jimmie opens with the pounding drums and jangly guitars of the raucous Mind Crumb. The juxtaposition between the two albums is pretty apparent all the way through, because if you think back to The Onlys, there were songs were about cereal toppings and instrumental jams dedicated to skateboard tricks (Pop Shovit To Disaster). Things are a little more serious this time out, and Jim is contemplating things like the fact he lives so far away from his family or looking back longingly on his Yukon days. And when he added some guest female vocals to his own last time out, the result was the button-cute Bedhead. This time it's Quicksand, which features this catchy opener "Lately, I know I've been letting you down, and I feel like a dirtbag".

Ok, so I think I've successfully proven Shotgun Jimmie's last two album are different, yay for me! Luckily for you, I think I can discuss the reason for the change in a much more concise fashion. The Onlys was recorded amidst the pleasant summer breezes of Marshwinds farm, near Sackville New Brunswick. This new album was recorded at the home studio of Jim's new friends, Welland, Ont. indie rockers Attack In Black. Jim and AIB shared a national tour last year, and the latter also acted as Jim's backing band on occasion, and the good chemistry they enjoyed on stage led them to extend their working relationship to the studio.

I, for one, am pretty impressed with the results. The production on The Onlys was really well done when you consider Jimmie did pretty much everything on his own, but this time out things have been taken up a notch. Although you might not expect it, the full-band sound captured on a number of the songs on Still Jimmie is a perfect match for Jim's quirky and off-kilter delivery. Songs like Mind Crumb, Louis Depson, and Cost of Doing Business are big, loud, and are all the better for it (as an aside, I bet a bunch of the tunes on this record are going to be a be a blast to see done live). Even the re-worked, more guitar focused version of the Shotgun & Jaybird classic Province to Province seems to have benefited from some Welland woodshedding.

Fans of Jim's off-beat personality need not fear that he's made a generic rock record, as that personality still shines through over and over again. The bouncy Used Parts might be the best example of this, with Jim delivering lines like "good luck with building buildings for bored historians, or finding used parts, for your Delorean" with the utmost earnestness. Treadwater features Jim's take on the indie music scene, which is really quite honest and insightful: "in a vast ocean, of millions and billions of bands, so many of them, I worry that they might drown all the fans".

Still Jimmie is a great album, and if you aren't familar with Shotgun Jimmers, this is the perfect chance to find out what he`s all about. I can't think of anyone else like Jim out here in the Maritimes, his combination of quirky, but engaging personality and musical chops make him unique. Hopefully this album gives him the exposure he deserves. Jim's heading out on a US tour with Attack In Black next month, and that should certainly help in the exposure department.

Mar. 05 Buffalo, New York Sugar City Art Space
Mar. 06 Syracuse, New York The Spark Gallery
Mar. 07 Brooklyn, New York Retox 4pm**MATINEE
Mar. 08 Asbury Park, New Jersey Asbury Lanes
Mar. 09 Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Hard Bean
Mar. 10 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Circle of Hope
Mar. 11 Baltimore, Maryland Carm City Art Space
Mar. 12 Athens, Georgia Flicker Theatre
Mar. 13 Gainsville, Florida The Kickstand
Mar. 14 Brandon, Florida The Black Coffee Gallery
Mar. 15 Atlanta, Georgia WONDEROOT
Mar. 16 New Orleans, Louisiana Dragons Den
Mar. 23 Forth Worth, Texas Hemphill
Mar. 25 Louisville, Kentucky The Nunnery
Mar. 26 Bloomington, Indiana Gigantic
Mar. 27 Columbus, Ohio Skylab Gallery
Mar. 28 Grand Rapids, Michigan Division Ave Arts
Mar. 29 Pittsburg, Pennsylvania Arist Image Resourse

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stingray of the Day:: Dog Day - Rome

"...wish I could help you forget

when you're in the red."

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News:: tUnE-yArDs live on Hooves on the Turf

We've already expressed our love of Merrill Garbus - aka tUnE-yArDs - and can't wait until a larger audience gets to hear her music (thanks Marriage Records). She's already got some stereogum love, which means lots of people will dig her (and more will bash her in the comment section) - but here's something special for you to check out.

The good folks at Hooves on the Turf recorded some killer video of her playing some ditties, including Hatari, Little Tiger and a new jam called Harold. So, check out Little Tiger - complete with airplane sounds and noise - and the cool vid that comes with.

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Reviews:: Ryan Cook & Sunny Acres Hot Times

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Here’s the thing. Country – no, not alt-country or roots... actually country – is a genre that really doesn’t get much attention from the ole music blogosphere. If you aren’t a rebel dressed in black or a pot smoking tax evader, well, you might toil in obscurity unless you get some CMT type love. Thankfully, with people like Corb Lund making a splash in the National scene with original sounds, terrific artists like Ryan Cook are not only being tolerated but celebrated.

South Shore's Ryan Cook & Sunny Acres put out Hot Times in 2008, and the country sounds they play are as good as I’ve heard in forever. Filled with heartache and down on your luck tales, you could easily slip Hot Times into an old juke box in a local bar and as the glasses kept emptying to forget the pain, most patrons would be none the wiser. Like any classic country crooner, he's proud of the place he grew up and lays his hat and tends to prefer the classic subject matter of love, heartaches and hangovers, so when they bust into a traditional sounding gem like Lovin' or a classic about the perils of pretty girls (Pretty Sure), you instantly realize that Cook understands what made the greats great.

But the more you listen to Cook and his band, the more you realize how comfortable they are forming their own sound. He stays true to who he is - I mean, when's the last time you heard someone drop Canso in a song - and it's that confidence helps him experiment with different styles without losing the feel of the record. When they break up the misery and pedal steel on Sharpest Knife with some heavy electric guitar, the track becomes more than just another dance floor swayer. It makes the track explode and stand out. How often do you picture a country singer playing in a coffee shop and winning over the inattentive crowd? Well, if you walked in off the street and heard Cook and Mandy Atkinson creating the warmth that resonates from the beautiful Children Smiled, I have no doubt you'd stay for the whole set.

Growing up we all say things like, “I’ll never be like my Dad”, without noticing that over time we've developed have the same mannerisms. No matter how much we fight it, we are who we are. With Cook, I’m not sure he ever set out to be a country artist – and his punk rawking/heavy metal past seems to prove the point – but over time it just happened and those subtle glimpses of his musical past give the music an authenticity you just can’t manufacture. You just feel like everything about Cook (and his band) is real and that's why a song like Gaspereau Valley hits with the jangle of guitar, banjo and a chorus as catchy as the common cold, they can win over anyone... even those people who say "I like all music, well, except country."

Ryan Cook & Sunny Acres will be up in NL this weekend for the East Coast Music Awards, and if all things are equal, they will walk home with Country Recording of the Year.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quick Hitters:: Laura Smith


A while back, I talked about Vancouver’s Hey Ocean! – a catchy as hell pop band that really helped jump start the summer – and realized that I kind of overlooked the pop driven side of the Vancouver scene in place of the gritty rockers and country tinged balladeers.

So when I got an email from Laura Smith asking for us to take a listen to her jazzy pop influenced piano ditties, who was I to say no? Laura earned her stripes playing with Prairie Cat and Said the Whale, but I’m not sure fans of either band would necessarily gravitate to her solo work.

What I like about Laura is that she keeps it simple, and I mean that in the best way possible. Her keyboard and piano melodies offer up emotion and her band thickens up the sound (with horns, bass, drums and guitar), but they never jeopardize melody for complexity. She never risks losing the listener by transforming every song with the intricate transitions that derail so many classically trained musicians. Smith is happy to ride the melody she crafts, confident that the emotion she presents is strong enough to keep your interest.

She can keep it light – Can’t Stop - but isn't afraid to retreat to the shadows on songs like It's All About You or the swirling Sea of Stars. A few of the songs stumble into the musical theatre realm (Swashbuckler’s Song for example) but the small missteps are overshadowed by the consistency of the debut. She manages to balance the freedom of the young girl flying down hill on her bike with a maturity that is needed to make sure the record doesn't become too sweet. At the end of the day she offers the intimacy you look for when you hear “a girl and a piano” but writes songs that are much more exceed that simple description.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Quick hitters:: Dan Mangan Roboteering

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Herohill has a long history with Vancouver’s Dan Mangan although one that started with ulterior motives on our part. When I lived in Vancouver, my wife was a big fan of Brett Dennen and when tickets for his show went on sale we were in Anacortes and missed the sales window. Mangan was opening for Brett, so I thought why not reach out to see if we could get on the list (herohill is not as selfless as you might have thought).

At the end of the day, his management didn’t get back to me until the day after the show so my attempts to scam them failed, but they did send over a copy of his record - Postcards and Dreaming - which became a favorite at our apartment and a must have on any road trip. I was so impressed with Dan's sound that I try to come up with a scientific equation to explain why I thought Dan was going to be huge.

Start with the appeal of Dave Matthew's rough, yet somehow tender voice. Now, quickly subtract all the douche bag antics you associated with DM and scrap the 9-minute jams sessions that go nowhere. Oh, and the violin parts from the odd looking dude, those are gone too. Now add arrangements that draw you in, a presence that makes you listen and an honesty that exudes from the lyrics and makes every song sound like something from your own life. Finally, carry the one, and you are left with Dan and the reasons why the Vancouver singer / songwriter has the potential to explode.

The thing is, it wasn’t until I saw Dan open up for Mark Berube a month or two later that I was convinced that Dan is destined for big things. At the time, I mentioned that when people started singing along to the chorus of Robots, the room was filled with smiles and people rushed towards the merch table. To be honest, I never thought much about it after I left other than it was a cute sing-along about a lonely man that worked well at shows, but for days weeks later, I found myself singing along to the chorus. It entered my brain so effortlessly, but it was damn near impossible to get it to leave

Well, now it's 2009 - almost 5 years since Dan first released Postcards and Dreaming - and he's finally getting ready to release his follow up record. Most people out of the game for 5 years would long since be forgotten, but Dan's been touring non stop, building his fanbase and really letting his songs develop into full fledged gems. The tracks aren't just snippets, but complete thoughts and maybe to say sorry for making us wait so long, he’s putting out a nice little EP – Roboteering – to get everyone excited.

The lead single, obviously, is Robots, a track that showcases the surprising tenderness of Dan’s gruff vocals, but it's how the song has been fleshed out that makes it impossible to shake from your cranium. The horns and slow build are terrific, as are the smatterings of banjo and harmonies, but it’s the nostalgic feel I get when Dan replicates the sing-along vibe of his live shows with group vocals to the end the song. Honestly, I challenge you to not sing-along as he repeats, “robots need love too. They want to be loved by you.”

The rest of the EP – including the great duet, The Indie Queens Are Waiting - is the perfect introduction to Dan’s skills. Not many people could pull off an insecure ballad about trying to fit in, a reworked demo as a treat for old fans and a spoken word piece and still only scratch the surface of the potential of the full length. I haven’t heard the full record yet, but I have no problem reserving a spot on my Best-of list for the talented Vancouver singer. Maybe that will make up for trying to squeeze him for tickets.

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Quick hitters:: Green Go remix the cream of the Can-Indie crop


Guelph’s Green Go are setting up for a big year. With a full length coming soon - April I believe, the fresh faced band is already getting CBC3 love and their 3-song teaser got some big press from the Toronto Star and Chart Attack. That's all well and good, but I think it’s their remix project that's going to grab the spotlight for them. They’ve taken 5 of the biggest indie rock outfits in Canada – The D’Ubervilles, Women, The Rural Albertage Advantage, Born Ruffians and Gentlemen Reg – and reworked a song from each. While that sounds like something any electro/syth project could do, I have to tip my cap to the band for the effort.

Green Go makes sure to hold true to the core of the songs and the remixes pay tribute to the composers. The RAA is blowing up these days, and I love how they work with the already terrific song – they leave Paul Banwatt’s drums alone on Sleep All Day – but still are able to transform the composition. Nils’ vocals, normally the center point - are left low in the mix and a nice beat pulses and pushes the normally sleepy pace.

They do a terrific job reworking Women’s Black Rice, keeping the spastic noise rock feel the Alberta band unearthed, but they make the track crack with the crisp snap of the new beat to give you something else to think about. You can really tell that Green Go thought about the output, because the haze they add really meshes with the sounds you’d expect to come form the Women camp. They didn’t just throw in some synths and turn the drum machine up to 120 BPM.

I also love how they show the critics that they are more than just a party band. The D’Ubes don’t need anyone’s help getting the dance floor shaking, but the darkness they created on Dragnet really stood out for me. Instead of changing the terrific mood the D'Ubes set on the original, Green Go actually keeps it stripped down and use restraint to intensify the track. The kick drum beat grabs a hold of you and even as they slowly add the elements to the mix, you still feel grounded.

I’m not really a remix guy, but I was very impressed by this collection of tracks. They made me remember the original but offered up a fresh take on songs I already dig, without feeling the need to stray to far from the original. They show how versatile the Guelph natives can be and got me a chomping at the bit to see what they will do with their own tracks.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Acorn:: Music for a Sunday

Just a quick post to let people know about the terrific Daytrotter session courtesy of Ottawa's own, The Acorn. They played four tracks from their last release, Glory Hope Mountain. Nice way to pick up your Sunday while you watch Brian Scalabrine try to keep up with the run and gun Suns.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Reviews:: The Soiree Minor Details

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Last time we checked in with Ottawa’s The Soiree, they were happy to play delicate folk melodies that revealed themselves slowly. Most reviewers wondered if there was something in the 613 water, and the band couldn’t shake comparisons to another successful Ottawa outfit (and to be honest the hand drawn tools on the new cover kind of remind me of the Tin Fist EP artwork). But when it comes to reviews, the sounds like game is the easy way out, especially since this time around The Soiree expand on the subtle textures they layer so well and deliver a more assured collection of songs full of hooks and confidence.

Minor Details explodes out of the blocks with the spirited piano pop of Coast to Coast. Horns and hooks back Bryce Colenbrander’s vocals and jump starts the record. It’s a quick, two minute pop ditty but it lets you know that the band is ready to expand on their sound and the energy flows nicely into Monsters. Even though the warm sounds are more in line with the sounds you’d expect from The Soiree, the deep hollowed out drum kick and the bounce of the bass line steeps the track with energy.

They control the tempo and energy of the record well, allowing the listener to surge and retreat with the band. Hide the Evidence crunches along, benefiting from a quick moving bass line and a heavy chorus, but they quickly take their foot off the gas and follow it up with the intricate The Way We Move. Minor Details twists and turns and the band refuses to let the listener settle into a complacent listen. They are quite happy to escape the security of the "warm blanket" previously associated to their sound and use inspired, slow builds (like they add to tracks like Enemies) in almost every song.

With all of the new sounds they have added to the repertoire, you might be tempted to say this record is The Soiree trying to find their sound, but everything they try sounds so good it’s like they’ve been playing it for years. They use their comfort zone as a starting point - The Work That We Do could have appeared on a previous work – but they transform their sound with a huge outro. Whether it’s the straight ahead pop of Perfect Crimes, the proggy breakdown they unveil on East-West or the summery piano that ends the record, they manage to tie every style together to create a terrific listen.

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Reviews:: The First Aid Kit - Still Standing

I feel like I owe the folks in energetic Halifax quintet The First Aid Kit an apology. I've had their excellent new EP Still Standing for a few weeks now, and I feel a bit guilty that I'm only getting the review up now. As it happens, my tardiness in this case is not, as per usual, an indictment of my blogging work ethic, but rather a positive - I've been enjoying it too much to break it down in any kind of review-like manner. Is that wrong?

Well, I guess me not reviewing something doesn't do you, the blog-lurking public, any favours. After all, what do you care about my personal happiness? Bunch of mp3 scrounging ingra...wait, what was I talking about? Either way, you can hardly blame me, as the six songs on Still Standing positively float by in a burst of exuberant harmonies and breakneck guitar riffs.

I've been a big fan of TFAK since being introduced to them through their debut EP Rocket Summer last year, and although still geared-up to make the indie kids crash the dance floor, it feels like there's a slight change in mood this time out. Rocket Summer was indeed more summery in tone, urging you to shake your snug-fitting jeans through the power of positivity. Things feel a bit more somber and reflective on Still Standing, but at the same time, there's still plenty of opportunity for head nodding and pants shaking.

The EP opens with My Resignation, a big, guitar-driven song that kind of feels like an anthem for all the kids in bands who find themselves wondering if the time and effort is really worth it. I have no idea if this is what it's really about, but songs like this certainly prove it's worth it for The First Aid Kit, in my humble anyway. Come On Baby not only mentions being born in the 80's (which makes me feel old, thank you very much) but it sounds like an 80's-inspired sing along, with group vocals, driving drums and some some raucous piano, it might be my favorite song on the album. Then again, I'm kind of partial to the synth-powered bounce of New York City and it's shout-along chorus.

Anyway, this is one review you can put squarely in the better late than never category. The First Aid Kit is one of my favorites amongst the Halifax bands that aren't too well-known outside the city, so I'm happy to help give them whatever bit of exposure we can. Still Standing is pretty excellent, and I hope band is back in the lab working on a full length (or at least a seven song EP, to continue the 5-song, 6-song pattern they've started thus far).

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Quick hitters:: Dom Deluca


Dom Deluca is a man with an acoustic guitar. He’s influenced by the greats and isn’t ashamed to admit it. In fact, I think if you told Dom that he reminds you of people like Dylan or Van Zandt (although, I’m not sure how Matthew heard Dave Matthews), he’d take it as a compliment instead of a backhanded slap. I even hear a similarity between Deluca and Ian Love solo's work, but what it comes down to is sometimes - just sometimes - a man with a guitar, a nasally voice and a life full of heartache is enough to make you smile and sing-along.

Birds of Worry is a collection of songs that don’t waver very far from the traditional singer songwriter patterns we all love, and rely on only a smattering of support (occasional lap steel, electric, organ and percussion), but it’s hard to turn the disc off. His voice is comforting and charismatic, and the familiar strum patterns make every song seems like something you unearthed from a yard sale find. We spend hours over analyzing the music we digest, but Dom takes us back to a time where it was okay to like the simple strums and associated stories.

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Reviews:: Julie Doiron I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day

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Over the last few years, it’s become increasingly easy to picture Julie Doiron writing songs from the comfort of her Sackville kitchen. Her sonic preferences have evolved from sludge and lo-fi melodies to tender tracks that expose hints of sadness delivered by a subdued voice and her emotions are spiked with the drama of a slowed down life filled with memories and dreams instead of the insecurities of youth.

And while there’s no doubt that Doiron is incredibly successful writing in this style (Woke Myself Up earned a Polaris short-list nomination), for me it’s hard not to pine for the noise and energy that she and the other Tripper’s created in the 90’s. It’s obvious, even after working with her former band mates on Woke Myself Up, that Doiron is never going to fully return to that style, but I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day blends her past and present nicely.

The record opens with the simple strummed ditty, The Life Of Dreams. As the bird sing in the distance, you can’t help but think of a beautiful sun filled morning; you get that rush of a new day and a fresh start. Doiron sings about the best things in life – good friends, hope, love – with an unexpected, but very refreshing optimism. Over the course of the next 11 songs, it becomes obvious that Doiron is in a great place in her life looking forward and seeing the beauty in everyday life (another summery number - Nice To Come Home - about the unbridled joy of coming home to a warm home).

But she also reflects fondly on her past (both with memories and a return to a sound many of us had forgot about – she even recorded a terrific French track Je Le Savais that will warm the heart of her long time fans). She and Fred Squire attack Spill Yer Lungs, a gritty stripped down track written by Squire that shows Doiron plugging in and letting distorted notes thicken up the sound. There's no mistaking that this release is a solo record, but Julie is quite happy to let Rick White’s keys and bass or Squire’s drums mesh with her guitar and voice (like she does on the punchy Borrowed Minivans or the classic melody of Lovers of the World) and deliver a bigger sound.

For those concerned, it’s still the same Julie. She still harbors the sneaking suspicion that a love can’t actually be pure or that a heart can’t exist unbroken. She still sings about the little things she sees unfold in front of her instead of grandiose narratives, but Doiron is definitely exploring some new terrain and making bolder musical choices. The way she describes the simple pleasure of flying around Sackville on a bike with wet brakes is classic, but the When Brakes Get Wet is completed by the pulsing drum machine static that creates a childlike excitement that really mirrors that energy and happiness we feel when we are lucky enough to escape real life.

For me though, what makes I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day so special is the honesty and freedom that runs through it. Trying to balance a storied past with where she's at now in her life would intimidate most artists and more importantly, risk alienating some of her newer fans. Following Nice To Come Home with the heavily distorted, double tracked chaos of Consolation Prize showcases the two extremes of her songs, but it also successfully replaces the nostalgia we might feel for any record Doiron has released in the past with an overwhelming desire to get to know who Julie has become.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reviews:: Pearson Clear Thinking On Mixed Feelings


Sometimes the cover art of a record is perfect for the emotions it conveys. For Clear Thinking on Mixed Feelings, you look and see a black and white, grainy image of some trees and power lines, almost as if you are trapped in a car watching the odometer turn as your thoughts slowly start to consume you. We’ve all been there and whether its restlessness or tranquility, those moments of solitude offer up a clarity we don’t get to experience very often.

Pearson is remarkably skilled at creating songs rich in emotion, but giving you the freedom and accessibility to let your own experiences move among the notes. The slowcore folk arrangements (I have to ask - smansmith how this hasn’t showed up on slowcoustic yet??) are vast and fuzzy, leaving lots of open space and time to think but the band adds just enough instrumentation (glockenspiel, clarinet, strings and horns) to keep the listener focused. Most importantly, Pearson understands that sometimes less is more and as a result, the boost the horns add to the a minor toned Cold Comfort are ring out for all to hear instead of acting as just another layer in a wash of sounds.

The record – a whopping 13 songs most breaking the 4-minute mark – moves slowly but surely. Whether it’s a straight ahead number like This Is Not A Letter, Nor Is It A Postcard , a lo-fi duet like the closer Streetlight (a song that explodes with heavy guitar before retreating to the silence) or how they spike the simple picked riff and nice balanced vocals courtesy of Sonia Dickens and Will Robbins of On Second Thought, Our Collective Alcohol Consumption Was A Tad Ambitious with lap steel and trombone, Pearson is consistently displays the confident to take sonic risks.

As Clear Thinking on Mixed Feelings unfolds, you can find a song to fit any emotion, and most songs morph to however you are feeling. The weary Brown Paper, Dark Water could be a tear in the beer anthem or an end of the night track as your last friends leave full of booze and memories. It’s as sad as it is warm, not a trait common you find often in a song. I love how the slow burning Chaff Dust Sand Snow - featuring Steve Reed and Colin “Maybe Smith” Skrapek on vocals – builds slowly before the band jumps into the inspiring A Fade Out Is A Cop Out. The transition works perfectly and shakes free any gloom you might have picked up over the course of the record.

One thing though… as much as I like this record – honestly, I think I made a big mistake not including these guys on Elgaard – I wish they had decided to leave the stripped down cover of Hey Ya as a treat for concert goers. I’m not a fan of bands dropping in the semi-ironic rap cover, especially not a song that is almost 6 years old, but if a new take on an old classic is the only fault you can find with a record, I’m thinking you’ve stumbled onto something worth hearing.

******* UPDATE
I just wanted to put in a little note here, especially re-reading it and seeing the negative connotation I have attached to the cover song. Sure, we've heard lots of bands cover Hey Ya, and most were probably done because of the popularity of the track... but for me to judge an artist's motives - especially when the band, to quote Will himself, "was (trying to be at least) sincere. I actually think it's ironic that such a lyrical heartbreaker of song was a club banging hit" - is exactly the type of shit we try to avoid here on herohill. We bloggers often chuck up a judgment of someone we've never met, and my cynical attitude shouldn't run over and change the meaning of a song.

Either way, Pearson is a band you should all check out. Like right now

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Stingray of the Day:: The O'Darling Mooncat

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Quick hitters:: Jay Clark and the Jones Blue Cholera


It’s no secret that roots music has picked up steam in the last few years. Repetitive synths have given way to long bended steel notes and spot on harmonies, but as is often the case when a genre becomes the flavor of the month, the sincerity and purity is usually lost. Too many people trying to claim the talent of Van Zandt, The Band or Willie as their musical Rosetta Stone and now we are being force fed the autumn browns and oranges through a musical fire hose.

Jay Clark and the Jones on the other hand, probably grew up listening to Petty, Lightfoot and CCR and just never stopped. It’s been 5 years since they last hit the studio and they are probably as shocked as anyone to find that pop laced roots records they love are now more popular than rip rock and pop punk. That dedication and love of roots music is evident to anyone who listens to Blue Cholera. The songs display a maturity that gives the band credibility and shows the band understands and appreciates the elements needed to pay tribute to the acts that came before them – like the subtle nod to Sloop John B on Anastasia. They don’t try to force sepia toned organs or twang-y lap steel in where it doesn’t belong and never try to crowd the honest emotions Clark Reid presents.

No, instead of countless harmonies and muddled textures the band (with help from Andy Magoffin) pulls back the layers nicely – like when the ivories float off into the distance on River Street Bridge - and let Blue Cholera float by on an airy breeze, even when the hurt hits the hardest. It’s become cliché to talk about back porch jam sessions and friends jamming to the sounds they love, but on rollicking numbers like Distance Love that’s exactly the vibe they give off. That free form style lets them playfully add horns on Last To Know or toss in a little reggae-tinged upstrum on Company without losing the integrity of their sound.

There are some hiccups – the beginning of Distance Love and parts of Anastasia drag a bit – but at the end of the day that almost works out better. Jay Clark and the Jones play songs that sound like your past and if they were too perfect, they’d seem out of place. But when they all come together – like when the harmonies, hand claps and fiddle lift the terrific closer, Sevens - you wouldn’t trade the feeling for anything in the world.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Support local radio:: Winnipeg's CKUW 95.9

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If you ever listen to the radio, well, you are probably brokenhearted these days with the news Chris Brown is a huge woman beater and you probably enjoy a lot of what Chad Kroeger and Katy Perry bring to the table.

But for people that want a bit more than kissing a girl or hearing the same riff over and over again, stations like CKUW offer a bit better alternative. Winnipeg has always been good to herohill, and now we are trying to give back. Right now, the station is doing their annual fund drive, and man, what a cool idea they have going on to kick start the donations.

The station asked 10 local musicians - including Propaghandi(!!!!), John K Samson, Novillero, Grand Analog and Pip Skid) to cover another local artist and donate the song to the station. The station is offering up the songs, some photos and notes from the bands as a thank you for supporters.

So if you have a couple extra bills in your wallet, send it over to CKUW and help keep good music alive.... or we might send Chris Brown after you.

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Records We Missed:: Moka Only - Carrots And Eggs

Moka Only's latest album (at least I believe it's still his latest, he might've released something new in the time it's taken me to type this - the man is a productive fellow) is a perfect candidate for this mea culpa-like section we call Records We Missed. I've had Carrots And Eggs since December I believe, but I'm just getting around to posting something on it now. But that's no reflection on the album's quality, I think it might be my favorite Moka effort to date, it's simply due to my old friends P&O; (procrastination and disorganization).

I'm not going to go into great detail in what Moka is all about. If you're new to the Durable Mammal, let's just say he's the busiest indie MC our country has ever seen, and he has the everyday-analysis lyric game on-lock tighter than anyone else you could name. Take a look back through his deep catalog, or check my review for his last album, Claptrap, if you are still in need of more Moka info. This here album is centered around the idea of Carrots and Eggs, and features Moka friends PSY and The Pride of Mount Uniacke (aka Buck 65) using their narration duties to discuss the merits of that combo. I have no idea what the significance of carrots and eggs is, maybe that unlikely combo's can produce some unexpected goodness at times?

Even if that's close to the meaning, there's nothing unlikely about pairing Moka's nimble, at times sing/song, or just sung, flow with his excellent organically electro production - that's usually a winning combo. Things get rolling a couple songs in with Hardly Say, which - features some, uhhh rolling, pianos and a rare guest shot (unlike every other MC, Moka tends to keeps his guests to a minimum - another detail that makes his output more impressive) from Bootie Brown. A Pharcyde cameo is always a welcome cameo I say. Felt Before is a classic Moka track, with a solid drum loop that's augmented with guitar licks and other atmospherics, with Moka's trademark croon providing the hook. An ode to those glossy publications that are being rudely elbowed into irrelevance by this kind of thing you're reading right now (except we don't have pics of "Will.I.Am rocking all the latest plaids") isn't your average rap song fodder, but Magazines is the kind of thing Moka's known for.

Starfish is the lead single from the album, and it's a swoony one for the ladies, but the big, fuzzy synths on the beat can grab the fellas' attention too. Usually Moka keeps things short & sweet, but The Door is one of the longer songs on the album. It starts as kind of a slow thumper with samples of a dude beating on a door, but halfway through, the beat switches to one of the better ones on here, the pace picks up, and there's a nice synth twinkle and horn mix. Sadat X is popping up everywhere these days, I think we could get him to do a verse on our record, if we rapped or had something akin to a record. I am not complaining mind, the more Sadat X the better in my humble opinion. Anyway, The New Era B-Boy Pockets is a floaty track that features Moka and Sadat wondering where they fit in today's uber-flossy rap game. I Mean Biznizz not only has a chorus that brings back pleasant D.O.C. memories, but it also has one of the harder knocking beats on the album. Does your life have a hole in it about the size of an instrumental track about salt? Well then Salt should complete you.

Last time I reviewed one of Moka's albums, I tried to snazz things up with a semi-forced simile-type idea that compared a Moka album to autumn. Well I'm not going to try anything that grandiose this time, I'm simply going to say that Carrots and Eggs is a perfect album tp bump in your headphones as you trudge through a frigid February day. There's a warmth in Moka's style, and that comes through on these songs more than ever - uh oh, it feels like I'm getting a little grandiose here, so just go get yourself some Carrots & Eggs and see for yourself.


Moka Only - Starfish

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Posted at 7:53 AM by naedoo :: 1 comments

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reviews:: Lorrie Matheson In Vein

web site :: label

* This review originally ran back in June, but the new release from Alberta's Lorrie Matheson - In Vein - was held up in red tape for months. Well, a release date has been set (Feb. 24th/09) so I thought, what better way to get the word out than to re-post a review from almost 8 months ago.

"I know the first five drinks they weren't free, but god damn they sure made me feel that way."

Really, that gripping, desperate lyric from Lorrie Matheson's This Beautiful Bottle should be enough for any Canadiana fan. It reeks of solitude, depression and is exactly what root music thrives on: a story about a broken down man, left with nothing but the bottle and the false friendship of the man pouring the drinks.

But Matheson is more than a roots artist, as he refuses to walk along the same old, dusty path. The Calgary-based artist is fixing to release his new record - In Vein - and it's a diverse listening experience. Sure, he can write a confessional like Falling Down Sober and make you feel a pang of sympathy for a man who just can't get passed his demons, even when he's trying his hardest to move on, but this record has a lot more wrinkles than you'd expect.

The record opens with the vocal distortion of A Hollow Wind, but the track quickly shifts into a reggae tinged, horn laced stomp. The piano bounces along, keeping time with the drums and leaves the rest to Matheson's vocals. Another Seven Minutes (Shot to Hell) follows the same pattern, as Matheson draws your ear with an ironic, almost uplifting breeze and a nice Avett Brother-ish section to freshen up the dark subject matter of song.

That's why this record is so engaging. He's able to change pace with countless styles that still manage to fit together like a coat of many colors. Whether it's a classic singer songwriter piano epic like Down On the Main (even though he adds some terrific horn work at the end of the track), a folky, back porch ditty like Blues From The Register Side, a spare, electro effort like Gone or simply adding some computer blips and bleeps to down and out anthem like You Can Curse the Dark, Matheson makes you want to keep listening. It's an amazing talent to make your voice be heard when it rarely creeps above a whisper, but one Lorrie has in spades.

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

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Video:: The Coast on

Every now and again doing this blog thing, I hear an album, love it, and then hear a song from that album some time later on and think to myself "what the deuce, why haven't these dudes blown up by now?". This happened last night while perusing the latest offerings on and coming across an episode of the alt.sessions with The Coast. I really loved this Toronto foursome's last album, Expatriate, and after watching these videos of the band playing in their frigid TO practice space, I revisited the album and had to wonder why they aren't huge by now.

Well, that's a wrong we can all start righting through the magic of video. Also, the band is currently on a tour of the UK, so if you happen to be one of the many tens of people in the UK who read the hill, I strongly suggest you check The Coast's myspace and see if they're hitting your town.


The Coast - Killing Off Our Friends

The Coast - Full Episode

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Posted at 1:51 PM by naedoo :: 2 comments

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Reviews:: Ceti Alpha Telemetry


* I should point out that the record lists 18 tracks on the cover, but there are only 12 songs and they are labeled wrong, so I might have got a few track names wrong.

If I had to give any band some advice, I’d recommend starting your record with an infectious bass line. A well plucked bass makes people pay attention, so when the Ceti Alpha record – Telemetry - explodes out of the blocks with the head bopping bass line and Nick Bevan-John’s Stephen Merritt-ish vocals on Wind City Wind, you just want to keep listening. I would have been happy to listen to the classic combination of sounds for a few more minutes without question, but the cacophony of chaos that evolves from the straightforward beginnings is like the cherry on your sundae. Bevan-John and his band add fuzz and a sense of disarray that constantly threatens to knock the pop song off course and really makes you wonder what else the band has got in store.

But for the most part, Bevan-John is a fan of clarity and simplicity. The melancholy of the Loneliest Man Alive makes terrific use of a tambourine and guitar, but shines the spotlight directly on Nick’s voice. Blue Skies drives forward with cymbal crashes and a nice hook. Even when they use new instruments or textures – like the piano and female backing vocals on Working For the Devil or the mandolin on Darkside Hill - every note is crystal clear and they never cloud the mix. The succinct sounds really help the listener settle into the punchy riffs and help you relate to Bevan-John’s vocals.

Telemetry is a solid listen from start to finish, and shows Ceti Alpha exposing some tried and true influences but not relying on them. The brooding darkness of 8 Track shows Nick tipping his hat to Robert Smith and Conor Oberst, where as She Went Over is a crazy mesh of garage rock and piano pop – but they handle the challenge effortlessly. Every track seems to fit perfectly into the flow of the record and rests easily within their reach. More importantly, Ceti Alpha never come off as derivative. The sadness that guides Sparrow channels Jens Lekman, but the band spikes the pace with mandolin, cello, cymbal work and some keys to transform the classic sounding riff into something completely new.

If you asked me to guess where Nick Bevan-John calls home, Dartmouth is probably close to the last place I'd pick, but it just goes to show how diverse and talented the musicians gaining traction here in Nova Scotia really are. If you are looking for a fresh sound from a local artist, you could do a lot worse than settling into Telemetry.

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Posted at 9:12 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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