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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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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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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Monday, January 19, 2009

IDOW preview:: Ana Egge

IDOW is getting closer, and we’ve been slow on talking about some of the acts that will be in town for the show. One of the most pleasant surprises is the appearance of Ana Egge. You may not know it, but you’ve probably heard Ana’s honey coated vocals countless times and swooned along accordingly. She’s worked with Ron Sexsmith and according to our sources (Joel), she and Rose Cousins sing harmonies for a fair amount of the tracks on the new Joel Plaskett record.

Her originals are lovely and from the few tracks I’ve heard on her upcoming record, Road to My Love – including collaboration with Frenzy Ford and Trish Klein of the Be Good Tanyas, I am thinking it’s going to be an album that grows on you with each listen. Her voice, obviously, is beautiful but the tracks are soulful and when the horns and whistle kick in on New Tattoo, you just have to smile.

Ana will be playing two shows, the first a quick songwriter circle on Wednesday, 28th @ The Bus Stop Theatre and then a longer set on the 29th, opening up for Halifax’s own Christina Martin.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Reviews:: Quiet Parade Labour Day


Anyone that’s been around the Halifax music scene for the last few years has probably stumbled upon Trevor Murphy in some form or another. I mean, Sleepless Nights is a rotating collective of some of the best musicians in the city and The Establishment is another stellar outfit, but with his latest musical incarnation – the aptly named Quiet Parade – Trevor shows a much softer, reflective side.

The special thing about this project is that even though this would probably be viewed as Murphy’s journey into a more classic singer/songwriter mode, his songs are bolstered by local talent (including Richard Lann on drums and killer photos, Jeff Pineau on bass, Jason Methot on guitar and Megan Hennigar - vocals/piano) and the sound, while spare, is thickened by interesting textures at just the right times. The end result is a collection of songs that sound more like a conversation with friends than an isolated outpouring.

It’s easy to picture a man sitting eyes close at a piano when you hear the beginning of Exile, but Megan’s backing vocals offer support and reassurance and the lead guitar dances around the melody nicely. Even a confessional like Only Bones, a track about his tennis elbow (but maybe more so about the fragility and fear we all face) starts out as just a simple backbeat and a few guitar notes, but the band slowly adds to the arrangement. It’s only a two and a half minute track, but the flow works perfectly and they never oversaturated the mix. When Quiet Parade reaches the finish line behind the strength of the pseudo-choral harmonies and organ, you kind of wish the song went on for another two or three minutes.

Trevor is comfortable exposing darker emotion and slower sounds, like the Exile and Martin Luther, but never lets the songs become stagnant. Instead of derailing the listen, he fuses in a moment of lightness or optimism (like the horns that accompany the simple idea of salvation on Martin Luther) and as a result, Labour Day simply plays like an intimate look into Murphy’s thoughts instead of painful diary entries. Even at the most emotional points, like when the sadness escapes from the banjo driven The Eight Year Lullabye of Sgt. Tony James - perhaps the most traditional solo affair - they use backing vocals, a spoken word breakdown and some surprising horns to completely contrast the solitude of the vocals.

Many songwriters could benefit from a little of Murphy’s brevity. He is incredibly successful introducing sketches instead of fully crafted stories. By keeping the songs spontaneous, honest and constantly evolving, even his longest efforts ( (We're Not) Home Free and The Eight Year Lullabye of Sgt. Tony James) don't fall victim to the over-indulgences that plagues most solo artists. At the end of the day, I'm not sure this is the vehicle that Trevor wants to be known for, but it's one that shows remarkable talent and promise and Labour Day is a record you can't help but let repeat over and over again.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reviews:: Laura Peek and the Winning Hearts - From The Photographs

Laura Peek is very busy. Along with her job as music director at Halifax's CKDU and her solo work (with her band The Winning Hearts), she's also been involved with a number of other groups & side projects: The Maughams, Brent Randall & His Pinecones, Le Coque et les Phoques, and playing in Buck65's band. So all things considered, I suppose it's not surprising her debut album, From The Photographs, took 2 years to make. But make it she did, and that's a good thing, because it's really an enjoyable album.

Originally, I was planning to say that Laura's piano playing was the main focus of most of the songs found on From The Photographs, but after a few listens I had to rethink that. I think her songwriting shares top billing with her piano work. The songs are cleverly written and cover normally serious ground without feeling too serious, if that makes sense. There is an appealing, light-hearted quality to these songs, which is impressive considering most of the songs deal with some form of loss or regret. I think part of the appeal comes from the fact that very few of the songs feel dark or heavy. Peek's piano is used to craft peppy arrangements, and her voice is warm and friendly, so that helps draw you in, regardless of the subject matter.

With someone so involved in the Halifax music scene, you might guess Laura probably had some quality help making this album. Well you guess correct friend. Recorded by the omnipresent Charles Austin, Peek also tabbed Mike O'Neil to make his debut as a producer on From The Photographs. Thankfully for all, Mike is far more believable as a producer then he is as Tom Collins in the latest season of Trailer Park Boys. The Winning Hearts are comprised mainly of Dave Ewenson on drums and Joel Goguen on bass. Ewenson's drums are upfront with the piano on most tracks, with Goguen providing solid background work. Although the bassline on Stand Right There is rather excellent.

The album opens with A Name, a tale of a failed adolescent love. It's a sweet prelude to the kind of short-story songwriting Peek uses throughout the album. So Sorry opens with a piano breakdown that Dr. Dre would be envious of. It also has a jazzy chorus that is mighty catchy. I often find myself wishing there were more sunny piano-pop songs about landlords observing their surroundings in a disapproving manner. Oh Lenny helps satisfies that request, plus it opens with the line "Family out back don't care much for haircuts", which I enjoy.

Although the aforementioned Stand Right There has a bass & kickdrum combo that will keep your head nodding more than your average breakup song, it also uses a cello and some organ flourishes on the chorus to nice effect. Vermont is perhaps the sweetest song about summer camp romance I've heard this year. Well perhaps not just this year, perhaps ever. Last Thing You Deserved and The Verdict are enjoyable, uptempo songs about the various ways life can deliver a swift kick to the coin purse. I also enjoy the spacey piano breakdown on Last Thing You Deserved.

I heard someone describe Peek's songwriting style as literary, and this line from the Gatsby-esque Social Graces is a good example of that: When in the salons of elite patrons of art, spare a thought for all your colleagues who were not quite as smart". For some reason, I love that line. Quite a feat to drop that and not come off as super serious.

The more I listen to this album, the more nuances I pick up in both the lyrics and music. It could just be I'm too thick to pick them up on first listen, but I'm going to assume it's mainly a sign of a good album. If you've been looking for some quality, non-depressing piano-pop, I would suggest you check out this album. Well even if you haven't been looking for piano-pop at all, From The Photographs is well worth your time.

mp3:: So Sorry

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