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Friday, April 16, 2010

Reviews:: Christopher Smith The Beckon Call

Before I started hitting the keys in front of me this morning, I had planned on talking about the benefits of consistency and how Justin Rutledge plays off of that comfort I feel when I hear his voice and guitar. I'll still venture down that path closer to the release of his new record, but today searching for consistency felt more like complacency and I wanted to write about something that stood out.

Standing out from the crowd isn't what you'd probably associate from Vancouver's Christopher Smith, a hushed bed/bathroom (and beyond) artist that prefers emotions and echoed whispers to energy, burst and tempo. His songs sound like isolation. Introspective glimpses into his soul that eventually get carried by subtle, but his tasteful arrangements would be just as powerful if Smith never sung a word.

It's almost fitting that we all probably know a Christopher Smith, not only by name but by the stories he tells. The Beckon Call is full of pain; Smith, like so many of us, has been run over by love and can't get past some of the most most hurt filled days. The sad clown is a common personality for song writers, but Christopher refuses to close himself off or lose hope. The optimism and desire to find love again that keeps him going also keeps the record moving and helps Smiths chords turn heartbreak into something heart warming. At just the right time Smith uses airy falsettos that soar over the melancholy and force you to smile through the darkest moments.

Check out his great snowglobe video for the lead single, Gently, Gently:

Christopher Smith - Gently Gently from Boompa Records on Vimeo.

His previous two EPs (Gently, Gently and Keepsake) are available now (a track from each are on The Beckon Call) and offer a perfect introduction to this talented songwriter while you wait for his debut full length to hit the streets on May 11th.

MP3:: Christopher Smith - Gently, Gently

MP3:: Christopher Smith - Piece by Piece
WEB:: http://thebeckoncall.com/

Labels: Boompa, Christopher Smith, , ,

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reviews:: Souljazz Orchestra Rising Sun

I know it goes against most people's overwhelming desire to have the inspiration for each and every song to have traveled from war-torn and impoverished African nations, but truth be told Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra have shown more courage and talent on Rising Sun than they achieved on either of their previous efforts.

In the past, Souljazz came across like an Afrobeat machine - which left the "educated and current" white music lover (infatuated with the recent Fela revival) very happy - but the Ottawa band revealed more influences and talent on Rising Sun and have grown well past a singular sound. Rising Sun uses its nine songs to prove that; going fully acoustic, excellent pacing, arrangements and above all, variety all make this smoothed out record a must hear.

Instead of booming drums and tight horns and political uprising, Rising Sun is a more spiritual experience, which provides the necessary comedowns and change of emotion from the booming horns of Agbara, the pure funk of Mamaya and the Ethiopian vibe heavy Negus Negast. The trumpet work the band delivers on Lotus Flower transports you to the most relaxed of states and the surprisingly minimal combination of percussion and traditional jazz you hear on Serenity is soothing and sensual.

The band is up to the challenge of grabbing your ear without relying on the crutch of frantic pace and the mid-tempo work is outstanding. Rising Sun might not offer boomer after boomer in an attempt to grab you on the most casual of listen, but what the band has created here is more magical and timeless. The 45 minutes take you to countless regions and emotional states, and honestly, if you think this sounds like elevator music, I want to live or work in the buildings you do, because both are super heady space with a soundtrack that would inspire me each and every day.

MP3:: Souljazz Orchestra - Agbara
MYSPACE:: http://myspace.com/souljazzorchestra
WEB:: http://souljazzorchestra.com/

Labels: afrobeat, , , , , Souljazz Orchestra

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Quick Hitters:: Kick Evrything This I is Demented and Possibly Deceased

It's hard to jump into a review of Vancouver's Kick Evrything without being tempted to lead with an easy and obvious sounds like. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I constantly bitch when critics get lazy and take the obvious route (see how I did that?), but truth be told I don't like the band that is constantly throw around when describing the unique and unsettling sounds Casey and Paul are creating and relying on that descriptor would mean I didn't like Kick Evrything either.

And on paper, maybe I shouldn't, but the more I soak in This I is Demented and Possibly Deceased the more I enjoy it. The whole record sounds like it was recorded on Radio Raheem's boom box (note: this would be awesome and some band needs to make this happen), almost as if the sounds were bursting from the duo and not even time or money could stop KE from getting their music out. Stomping through lo-fi blues, swirling hippie freak folk, banged out synth driven tracks and fuzz filled ambiance, the thirty minutes has just enough sex appeal, grit, snot and washed out sun to keep you as interested as you are uncomfortable.

Casey has the presence you need in a front woman, and the band shows they can move freely across countless genres without sounding lost or unfocused. Even as they float from stomped out blues to a pseudo 90's/alterna-pop number (Dusty -> Tail End) or crank the noise and energy back up for the heavy tail end of the record (Buck and Fun certainly find the LP concluding on a spirited high), they keep it together nicely, which helps you stay with the band when they drift farther away from anyone's comfort zone.

MP3:: Kick Evrything - Dusty
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/kickevrything

Labels: Kick Evrything, , ,

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Deeper into Music:: Apollo Ghosts Mount Benson

Last year we fell in love with the Daniel, Fred & Julie record and asked Daniel Romano to give us a bit more information about the songs, the recordings and the nonsense and hilarity that ensued. IT was a pretty cool piece and people seemed to love the idea, so we thought why not reach out to one of our new favorites, Apollo Ghosts, and how the glory that is Mount Benson (a lock for my Polaris ballot for those keeping score at home) come to be.
Last fall we got together at the space and decided to record another album. A new Taco restaurant had opened up on Hastings street and we ate a lot of them while recording. Dave manned the boards and Loki the cat scratched the couch. We drank whiskey for courage. I think it took about a week. When we got our test pressings back--Dave played it on the studio player, tilted his ear to the spinning disc and summed up the whole project quite nicely: "Delightfully ragged."

01 Wakesiah
Adrian gives himself about two songs per record where he's allowed mega-overdubs. Amanda and Jay don't let Adrian use his loop pedal live so it was his only chance to get frisky. The opening lyric connects to the previous record, Hastings Sunrise. "This is about the time I said I'd choose to live." We recorded this song once before but the key was way too high. Adrian can barely hit it as is. Jay and Adrian did the mmmmm's and tried to make them sound like BC Ferry horns. This is about someone getting into a bathtub, sailing across the Strait of Georgia to find someone he lost. Seems pre-teen tragic.

02 Charms of Cars
Sometimes Adrian goes to the washroom during practice and Jay and I do bass/drum jamz. There usually pretty funky. A lot times he'll come back and scream: "Keep it going, we got a song here!!!" I think he told me Charms of Cars is about the illusion of teen car ownership. Or Capitalism.

03 Coka-Cola Admen
My friend Ken (from the band 'Madonna Bangers') asked me what this song was about on our little tour last summer. We were six beers deep in our sleeping bags somewhere in a Washington State campground. I think I mumbled something about the real-estate bubble and former eccentric mayor of Nanaimo, Frank Ney. I think the Coka-Cola Admen invented the modern day Santa-Claus.

04 To: A Friend Who Has Been Through A War

We play this as power-pop song live but I recorded the demo as an acoustic version and it stuck for the LP.

05 Witchcraft Lake
There is a lake at the foot of Mount Benson called 'Witchcraft Lake.' It's black and red and filled with eerie tree stumps. After you climb Benson it's really tempting to jump in and cool yourself off. The only problem is the lake tries to pull you in. Seriously. The banks of the lake give way and and it feels like a spirit dragging you under. There's been a plane crash and multiple alien sightings on Mount Benson.

06 Brown To Grey
Our friend Rose Melberg came in and sang the duet on this one. Kim Koch plays the violin.

07 Samurai Chatter
My friend Brent hunts Sasquatch down on the Nanaimo river. He has a big beard and amazing gold panning skills. I think this is the biggest cryptozoology song on the record. Dave gave us a disco-wah pedal for some overdubs. He also added these crazy alien sounds when he was alone in the studio, which both shocked and delighted. Like any island kid, I grew up hunting frogs and playing war games with my sister near lakes and rivers.

08 Sons Of Norway
There was one out in the last inning of the Nanaimo little league championship. Amber hadn't hit the ball all year. Bases were loaded. She bit her lip and smacked a single through the first baseman's glove. And the Sons of Norway hoisted to the trophy.

09 Hub City
Frank Ney, former eccentric mayor, created a bathtub race between Nanaimo and Vancouver. There is even an entire pirate themed island located in the Nanaimo harbour called 'Protection Island.' Nanaimo is the heart of Vancouver island.

10 Salmon Capital
Definitely about Capitalism.

11 Attaquez! Attaquez! Attaquez!
Ferdinand Foch, French Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies , had a strategy---forget defense, just attack! Attack with everything you've got!

12 Things You go Through
I think this is our sad attempt to write a Subterranean Homesick Blues'esque song. When we finished recording it, Dave said: "It needs something." Using a big piece of sheet metal, several tamborines and two sound barrier walls, we created the Frankle: an improvised garbage thunder drum. You can hear it thrashing around in the background.

13 Snow on Mount Benson
Adrian is a sucker for piano ballads even though he can't play. Our friend Chris-a-riffic came down and recorded the piano part in a few takes. You should really check out his music, not our crud!!!

MP3:: Apollo Ghost - Things You Go Through
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/adrianteacher

Labels: , , Deeper into Music, ,

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Texting Mackenzie - Quoi De Neuf

In the late 90's, Halifax was over run with musical talent. Unbelievably, especially if you consider today's market, bands were turning down record contracts to avoid being labeled as sell-outs and to focus on the music and forming a sound. Over time that "sound" slowly filtered into our DNA like a love of donairs, constantly discussing the weather and stopping for pedestrians. Heavy riffs, minor chords, and the classic loud-quiet-loud progressions that cranked up the energy to a fever pitch rang from almost every bar in Halifax. Sigh.

So when Texting Mackenzie jump start their Quoi de Neuf EP with the prototypical Hali sounding The Annex, you can't help but fall in love the ear pleasing melodies. But rather than praise the band for sounding like the countless acts that picked clean a once fruitful orchard so many years ago (no matter how great the results sound, because trust me, The Annex is le jam), it's the remaining songs that showcase the creativity and future of the band.

Freckle Face uses a driving acoustic riff and some piano to showoff the band's ability to deliver a more standard pop sound, but TM still puts their stamp on the song when they spend the last minute adding the needed muscle and chaos to the well timed climax. Ozma Redux is a loud/quiet/loud anthem that shows the band willing to let the catchy hook do the work and showcase Robin Jools Wright's sci-fi heavy lyrics. For that three-minutes, it's impossible to sit still, especially when the band hits full stride which makes the shift to the classic, folk/pop Keen Speciman even more jarring. The nice duet with O'Darling's Ida Maldstone is well put together - the two vocalists mesh well and the mandolin really adds to the authenticity of the emotion - and on its own it would sound impressive, but I have to admit the abrupt change of pace derails the momentum of the EP.

Thankfully, the band finishes the 6-song effort strongly. The infectious bass line and group vocals on Municipal Pride get you moving again, and leads you happily into the most surprising and rewarding effort on Quoi de Neuf. RSVP dips into an almost soulful indie pop, where Wright's vocals stretch to their limit in a Ted Leo-like fashion and the band does what so few ever succeed at; putting their best foot forward to finish the race.

MP3:: Texting Mackenzie - RSVP
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/textingmackenzie
BANDCAMP:: http://textingmackenzie.bandcamp.com/

Labels: , , Texting Mackenzie,

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Reviews:: David Myles Turn Time Off

Over the last few months, the strain of writing daily reviews has been wearing on me. It's no secret we try to write something worth reading each and every day, but the schedule means we are forced to try to judge good bands by their greatest moments. It's not really fair to the listener or the band. For any music fan, a song is more than three-minutes; a song is a moment in your life you want to hold onto forever.

Right around the same time, I was reading a blog post by musician turned entrepreneur Derek Sivers (trying to apply his dancing guy / first follower principle to social learning in an 35,000 organization) and realized his philosophy of hell yeah! or no makes a lot of sense from a music blog perspective. In a nutshell, if Sivers isn't excited about something, he's saying no. He believes that there is too much to get done and too many great things out there to spend time on things that don't matter.

Obviously, with music the immediacy of a song is undeniable so his thoughts make sense, but what about things that take time to grow? Well, this is actually the thing that hell yeah! or no really helps us with. By saying no to some bands we are only okay about, we have more time to let records blossom. Gone is the the pressure of daily posts and, more importantly, we start to enjoy listening to records and triggering memories each time we hear a song.

When we started herohill, it was to give unsigned bands we loved the chance to get heard by even just our friends. Over the years, our audience has grown but the idea hasn't. The thing is, trying to review 5 records a week and always have fresh content means that bad records turn good and good records turn great. Great records? Well, because you have to move on before the record stops spinning, they don't get the chance to become life-altering and even the best songs no longer become something you hold onto. That's the biggest crime of it all.

So what does this mean? Probably a few less posts from me on herohill over the next few months, but hopefully more quality for your ears. Singles might get a few less lines of thought; almost a musical tweet of sorts, and records that seep into my soul like Turn Time Off - the new long player from Fredericton's David Myles - will be given the time and attention they deserve.

On his fourth record, Myles has found the recipe that works best for him. With some excellent production from Polaris short-lister Joel Plaskett, Myles has delivered a rock solid collection of warm, soulful pop songs that warm you with each and every listen. Myles has always been a whip smart song writer; as accessible and his is enjoyable and over the last few years he's been leaning more on his electric and full band compositions, but Turn Time Off shows him standing front and center with a well earned confidence, trusting a collection of musicians moving perfectly in time behind him.

From the opening moments of the melancholic Out of Love, Myles owns each and every song. He fuses the tracks with emotion without losing the listener. His thoughts could be yours, and as the warm melodies make you sway in time you get lost in the record. Gentle picks and touching harmonies fit perfectly beside experimental sounds (he drifts into a reggae feel on Run Away and even adds some spacey fuzz and dub to the quizzically titled Peace of Mind), subtle textures and even some Chuck Berry inspired electric chug. It's easy to hear this record and say that Myles has written his strongest hooks to date, but also challenged himself with bolder sounds and bigger goals.

It's very fitting Myles decorate his record with a simple picture of him wearing a sharp suit and tie. A cover like that could have been pulled from a stack of vinyl at a yard sale as easily as it could have been uncovered on iTunes or the Web, and it suits Turn Time Off to a tee. The songs and emotions stay with you for much longer than its 36-minute run time; in fact, like a well tailored suit, Turn Time Off will never go out of style. If that doesn't refresh your love of music, I don't know what will.

MP3:: David Myles - Gone For Long
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/davidmyles
WEB:: http://davidmyles.com

Labels: , David Myles, Fredericton, , ,

Posted at 7:34 AM by ack :: 3 comments

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Contest:: Win (5) copies of Canteen Knockout Broken Down Town

The other day I was trying to put together some sort of flow chart for how we got to the point where almost every band has a pedal steel player and members don snappy cowboy shirts like Bart Simpson wears orange tees and blue shorts.

It would be easy to trace the history and talk about the genius of Sparklehorse or Uncle Tupelo (or just blame Wilco), but I had to point to a moment, it would be when Indie pranksters Ween put out 12 Country Golden Greats. After that, people with guitars could play funny songs about Japanese cowboys and pissing up ropes to make their friends laugh. It also meant that tons of song writers could try their hand at writing hokey songs full of twang without running the risk of turning people off.

That record transformed country from something pure and outdated into something accepted by our most indie-loving and eco/patchouli-friendly associates. Sadly though, it also made country music a bit of a joke for a lot of people now experimenting with it. That long winded preamble is my subtle dig at the authenticity of the most of the bands trying to cash in on the legacy, but its also makes me nod approvingly when I hear a band putting together sounds that pay tribute to the genre, not just try to take from it.

Enter Canteen Knockout.

I don't know much about the Toronto band's back story; I liked their debut LP Navajo Steel enough (and still think that;s a great name for an adult film star), but really had no knowledge of the countless styles Andre Skinner tried his hand at before he settled in with this band. The players that help him bring the songs on Broken Down Town to life - Alex Maxymiw (Luther Wright and the Wrongs), Jake Adams (Doug and the Slugs!) and Scott Whirmore, Janes Carroll and Dean Cavill - display an appreciation for the history of country music that can't be faked and help these songs stand out from the overcrowded collection of bands sampling from the same influences.

Whether it's shit hot country fried rockers like My Head's on Fire, a tear-in-your-beer ballad like Golden Day or a sincere take on a classic Lightfoot epic (The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald), the songs Canteen Knockout put together just feels real. Beautiful pedal steel floats around the electric guitar work. Simple but driving bass keeps you moving. Brushed and heavy drums keep time nicely and some well placed fiddle and female harmonies steep the emotion at just the right times.

Canteen Knockout rests firmly on the country side of that dreaded alt-country descriptor, which probably means more people will dismiss the sounds than embrace them, but for fans of actual country music, there is something here. Broken Down Town is full of melancholic nostalgia and Saturday night foot stompers, but the most important moments are the ones found in the closing five minutes. Driving starts like countless other sad sack, self-pity anthems but Skinner starts to realize that maybe, just maybe life is not as bad as he tries to make it out to be. Hearing bands like Canteen Knockout makes me feel the exact same way about the state of music today.

Thanks to Phil @ weewerk records, we have five copies of the record (actual copies, not just downloads) to give to the first five people that comment or email us (HEROHILL [AT] GMAIL.COM). It's that easy and well worth it... so enjoy.

MP3:: Canteen Knockout - My Head's On Fire

MP3:: Canteen Knockout - Louisiana

WEB:: http://www.canteenknockout.com/
BUY:: BUY from Zunior

Labels: , , , ,

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Quick Hitters:: Kites Overhead In the Shadow of the Mountain

Stumbling on a small, one man band like Kites Overhead is kind of why writing a blog is worthwhile. For every 50 PR mass-mail we get filled with sounds-like and buzz words, we probably get one or two honest submissions from artists like Gene Kondusky. Gene didn't try to lure us in with cliches or press quotes, he simply asked if we'd like to listen and appreciated any time we could offer.

After a few listens to his songs, it was obvious that the experience was definitely worth our time and then some. The 3-song EP he sent over - In the Shadow of the Mountain - was a unique look into the heart of a man finding freedom in isolation. Gene wrote and recorded the songs living in the Arctic, but the focus of the EP (two songs from his upcoming album and a nice Magnetic Fields cover) was to free himself from the restrictions of only recording what he could play himself on stage with loops and his own two hands.

Distinguishing the studio from the stage allowed Gene is able to focus on simply writing songs. In the Shadow of the Mountain is a cinematic instrumental that surges with power but is filled with intricate textures that keep your attention. His acoustic guitar starts the track, but electronic pulses, drums and loops soon stand alongside the simple notes and slowly the song grows with the the joy of freedom, not the added weight of forced importance. Obviously this type of effort would be hard to replicate alone on stage, but it sounds great in your headphones.

The second two songs on the EP are more standard in sound and arrangement, but still equally enjoyable. Thaw builds slowly, organically and you feel almost as if Gene is giving a slight tip of the cap to one of his influences (Sigur Ros). The restrained pace and dual language really adds to the atmospheric vibe of the track, and the female harmonies are a nice add. The EP closer is a more spirited take on the classic Magnetic Fields track, Grand Canyon. Gene picks up the pace and adds a bit more weight to the song. Instead of the bleak outlook you get from Merrit's sad baritone, you take some hope from the song and wonder if just maybe she can actually love him that way again.

Kites Overhead is getting ready to release a full-length in a few weeks, so in the mean time grab the free EP and enjoy.

MP3:: Kites Overhead - In the Shadow of the Mountain

MP3:: Kites Overhead - Grand Canyon (Magnetic Fields cover)

MYSPACE:: http://kitesoverhead.com/
D/L:: http://homeisnothere.com/

Labels: , Kites Overhead, , ,

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Best of '10:: Young Doctors In Love 5 Golden Greats

At some point it just becomes easier to stop looking for the great moment on a good record. It might seem silly to say, but the result is more an more records that get sent our way get tagged with the career stalling descriptor of "they're alright" and proceed to hover near the top of the review pile, but never reach the summit.

That's why when a record explodes out of the speakers with energy, confidence and talent, well, it's something to get excited about. Toronto popsters Young Doctors in Love are a quintet that has seemingly already mastered a recipe that all too many bands struggle with for years and still never get right; three-minute pop tracks built on terrific arrangements, female vocals and a rhythm section that keeps you moving. It's amazing how many bands use the same elements and can't find the right sound.

Instead of trying to craft fuse each track with unnecessary complexities, YDiL opt to follow the sage advice of Thoreau and simplify, simplify, simplify. Song writer Clay Puddester builds the hooks with catchy guitar work, but the rhythm guitar, synths, bass and drums move along side and over top of his chords perfectly. The band seems to know exactly not only who deserves the spotlight, but who should play the crucial supporting role (case in point: the bass line that keeps the harmonica driven Oh Caroline moving) and as a result every melody feels complete.

The 5-song EP never suffer from a letdown, and 5 Golden Greats really lives up to it's title. Now matter how tight and fun the melodies are, it's the vocal work that really seals the deal. Jen and Lesley litter the melodies with "bah, bah, bahs" and "la, la, las" (Eloise And Her Sister Marta and the infectious The Sound Of Broken Glass) and really give the songs the power and punch we've all come to expect from prototypical Canadian pop outfit, The New Pornographers.

Amazingly though, in the quick hitting 16-minutes, Young Doctors in Love not only display the potential to warrant comparisons to established acts with devout fans, but also the talent to stand on their own songs. Even the bold tempo change that starts the EP closer, Don't Turn Away, oozes with charisma and floats nicely, when in the hands of many it would sink. If these 5-songs are an indication of what the band has to offer, I'd guess Canadian indie-pop fans will be filing into their shows very, very soon.

MP3:: Young Doctors in Love - Eloise and Her Sister Marta
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/youngdoctorsinlove
BUY:: BUY from iTunes

Labels: , , , , , Young Doctors in Love

Posted at 7:02 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Quick Hitters:: Summerlad Blue Skinned

After reading a, "that's it, I'm done" post from another Canadian blog, it's kind of fitting that I talk about Calgary's The Summerlad this morning. The Cowtown band has been at this for 11 years, writing their songs for their small set of devout fans and refusing to conform to the latest and greatest trends. Art - or more accurately, living as an artist - is never easy, but the resolve the band has shown over the years is remarkable. I'm not sure how big their fan base is or what the band's goals outside of simply creating music are, but when so many musicians, bloggers, and writers are giving up, The Summerlad keeps pushing on.

So I guess its somewhat fitting the band shifted from a five-piece to a three-piece and gone on a brief hiatus while Arron is in Qatar as soon as their new record came out. Long time contributors Liz and Sean are no longer part of the band, and with their amicable departures, most of the back catalog has to be put to rest as well. As a result, Blue Skinned is a fitting swan song for the unrelenting band; one that shows all of the talent and flaws of the band to anyone that listens.

There is nothing conventional about this 7-song, 56 minute affair. Blue Skinned finds The Summerlad combining noise, layers, harmonies to create stark moments of beauty and love that nestle up beside brash, aggressive sounds. It's hard to judge the record on a whole, simply because the scope is too vast. It takes several listens to even process the entire listen; sort of a musical goulash that gets more flavor the longer it simmers. Obviously, most people don't actually want to sit through nine-minute cinematic surges or seventeen-minute odysseys but The Summerlad has never made music for the casual listen and that's one of the things I like most about the band.

It's also the biggest knock against them. I mean, if you walked in and heard the spacey, distorted voices on The Marathon Man as a singular point of reference, you'd wonder what the hell is going on. That being said, a casual listener that was lucky enough to hear the harmonies that grow from the energetic Vauxhall Secret would probably wonder why the band doesn't just build on these fantastic moments and bang out simpler songs that grab you right away. Both conflicting and opposing emotions are polarizing, but exactly why fans of the band listen so intently.

Even with the lineup change, hiatus and uncertainty, Blue Skinned isn't the end for The Summerlad. In fact, the three remaining members - Arran, Dean and Garrett - already have started writing and recording a new record headed in a completely different direction. I'll certainly lsiten, but there's no way I could ever predict anything about what it might sound like. I guess I'll just take comfort in knowing that there will always be something new just around the corner for the three musicians.

MP3:: The Summerlad - Vauxhall Secret
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/summerlad

Labels: , , , , The Summerlad

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Reviews:: Falklands Bastille Day

A few months ago I made a casual mention of how my list of records to discuss on herohill was interrupted by a little known outfit from Edmonton by the name of Falklands. The young band had sent over a copy of their 7" and the A side - Stephanie - was an inspired, energetic Chisel-era Ted Leo-ish jam. The back side - Jeez Louise - was a catchy slice of Hi-Fives surf pop-punk that never took itself seriously and made you nod along happily. Basically, in 7-minutes, the band made you take notice and get excited.

Flash forward to this week and once again a quick email from guitar man Mark Budd basically triggered the same chain of events. Record from Dave Myles, Plants & Animals, Caribou and Mark Sultan all got pushed back into the pile and their new EP - Bastille Day - has occupied much of my daily listening.

I suppose it shouldn't be a huge surprise for a young band to change their sound as they start to grow as a band, but the peppy mod and pop punk ditties are nowhere to be found on Bastille Day. Instead, the band offers up some rough, guitar heavy bar rock more inspired from UK acts that dominated the 70's rock scene. Heal My Hand booms out of the blocks and right away you sense a bit of a swagger coming from the speakers. Obviously playing shows and writing songs has given the Edmontonians the confidence to crank it up and start finding their own sound, but even more important is the new collection of influences that they sample from.

Dancing in the Moonlight is an aggressive tip of the cap to Van Morrison that the band handles surprisingly well by adding drum fills and heavier guitar solos to balance the melody and softer vocals and they even close the EP with a rough and ready cover of Tom Petty's Refugee that feels like it was recorded after a sweat filled session and a case of beers. But the thing is, the energy and fun they deliver on all five songs show that Falklands are more than happy playing some straight up punk tinged rock n' roll. In an age where the recipe of guitars, drums, and bass is often dismissed as juvenile or simplistic, I'm on board with any band that has the balls and riffs to make you dance and drink without any gimmicks, studio magic or trying to tap into the buzziest of sounds.

MP3:: Falklands - Heal My Hand

MP3:: Falklands - Refugee (Tom Petty cover)
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/thefalklands
BUY:: http://falklands.ca/

Labels: , , , Falklands, ,

Posted at 7:25 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Quick Hitters:: Peter Katz First Of The Last To Know

If you listen to Peter Katz talk, you get the feeling that not only does he love his "job", he feels a sense of responsibility to become better each time he plays and give everything he can to music. I know that might sound hokey to most of the indie-tastic music lovers out there who wear bitterness and apathy like a badge of honour, but it's surprisingly refreshing and somewhat noble.

Katz isn't ready to settle for songs that simply exist; no, much like some of the heroes he's added to the mix on First of the Last to Know, the young song writer wants to inspire, challenge and ultimately reward anyone that listens. Instead of more songs about lost love, Katz takes influence by the sadness and love in the world around us. Whether it's his thoughts on the last few hours of Matthew's Shepard's life or Oliver Schroer fighting leukemia and playing one last show, Katz gives everything he can as he tells stories people want to hear.

I know when it comes to singer/songwriters, it's not just what you say but how you say it and fans of poppy folk will happily settle into his melodies and voice. The songs he writes (with help from Rob Szabo) are lush and slow, revealing themselves slowly and confidently. Strings, piano, horns and harmonies are warm and comforting and provide the backdrop for Katz's words. Every note is well thought out, and that patience and persistence results in a solid listening experience.

Even when he adds those big name guests to the equation, you get the sense it's because he wants to sing with the people he admires, not sell records and he's able to stand side by side with National (and International) talent, relish the experience and still hold his own. He and Melissa McClelland mesh nicely on the beautiful Let Me Go. He's able to still stand front and center when he sings with his hero Glen Hansard on the title track, and as he proves on the delightful Til You Come Home he even holds his own when matched with the beautiful voices of The Good Lovelies.

I'll be honest. I'm not one to sit down and listen to these type of arrangements very often and was tempted to let this disc rest in the ole promo pile, but if a Canadian music blog doesn't give the hard working musicians some love, who will? Katz is out there working hard, earning his fans with a constant touring schedule and the desire to get better. I prefer spare mixes and a more rootsy feel, but I have to give credit where credit is due. In the hands of most, these songs would come off as dishonest, but you never get that feeling from Katz. He's not quite there yet, but you can see how with his work ethic and passion, he will eventually get to the level of the big names you hear on the radio.

MP3:: Peter Katz (ft. The Good Lovelies) - Til You Come Home
MYSPACE:: http://www.peterkatz.org
BUY:: http://www.myspace.com/peterkatz

Labels: , , Peter Katz, ,

Posted at 7:32 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Quick Hitters:: Milks & Rectangles Troubleshooters

Last year, PEI's Milks & Rectangles exploded out of nowhere and out of your speakers with a surprisingly ambitious debut EP. Civic Virtues may sound like a title to a Weakerthans track, but quite quickly the EP showed the band's influence came from across the pond, not simply across the Confederation Bridge. More importantly, the songs reached for the rafters and the young lads from Charlottetown seemed determined to make entire stadiums rock, not just small, smoke-filled clubs.

Whether it's the experience of playing more gigs, the simple reality of growing up quickly on the road or the frustration of reading countless reviewers lean on the easy sounds-like comparison, Troubleshooters finds M&R leaving the delusions of grandeur and most of the Franz Ferdinand inspired boomers behind. They still have tons of energy and a tackle box full of hooks, but seem more comfortable playing rock with varied tempos and a darker edge that is tailor made for the size venue they currently reside in.

The transition works well for the young band, and gives them a ceiling much higher than one created by perfecting the sound they exposed on Civic Virtues. Opening with the frantic drums, howling lead vocals and swirling harmonies, Wink And A Gun (The Jury's Hung) is the perfect intro to the band's new sound. Granted, they follow with Unring the Bell, a track that could easily fit on their last EP, but you have to hand it to the PEI outfit; they make that journey to the other side of the pond seem natural and effortless.

These 15 minutes - including a Barnkats cover - should be enough for you to put Milks & Rectangles on your radar and expose a sonic palette ready for a full length release. Not convinced? Well, head over to the band's web site and download the EP for free. You won't be disappointed.

MP3:: Milks & Rectangles - Wink And A Gun (The Jury's Hung)

MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/milksandrectangles
D/L:: http://milksandrectangles.bandcamp.com/

Labels: , , , ,

Posted at 9:50 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Contest:: Win 2tix to see Metric + CD

After winning the hearts of fans and critics with the release of the Polaris shortlisted Fantasies, Metric hasn't exactly slowed down. They are touring the shit out of the record, about to drop a collection of B-sides and pulling down awards like Moses Malone pulled down rebounds. I know the band is divisive. Ican't think of another indie rock band (that is still indie) that causes more debate among music lovers; "they are too popular", "they are overrated", "they are my favorite band". Nothing you hear about the quartet seems shocking, but I'll be honest, Fantasies is as solid a collection of singles as I've heard in a long time, and the band dares to be great and is willing to accept the backlash that comes with trying to be more than just another band.

Anyway, they are bringing their dynamic show to Halifax with the The Arkells, the scruffy, Hamilton outfit that has been known to burn stage after stage to the ground. The show is April 14th @ The Cunard Centre and even though you can still get tickets here, at $39.50 a pop, taking advantage of the chance to get two tix and a copy of Fantasies just makes sense.

We will draw the (3) - that's right, three - winners on March 26, so enter now by sending us an email (HEROHILL AT GMAIL DOT COM) or leaving the details in the comments section down below. Good luck, and here's Metric busting through a cover of The Strokes track, The End Has No End, just to get you excited.

MP3:: Metric - The End Has No End
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/metric
WEB:: http://www.ilovemetric.com

Labels: , , ,

Posted at 8:15 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Reviews:: The Consulate General Person Number

Alex Chen is a man that sees beauty in what most of us take for granted or chose to avoid. Whether it's his visual art or his music, he searches for inspiration in areas most people walk past with our heads down and consumed by our complaints and complacency.

That's why when Alex sent over his solo work - under the moniker The Consulate General - it wasn't surprising to hear that he took another step back from the minimal electro-pop his creates as a member of Boy in Static. Gone are the stabbing strings and uptempo, intricate programmed beats that grabbed your ear and without question, the journey he makes as The Consulate General, albeit just as meticulously arranged, seems more personal and introverted.

The record moves at a reserved pace, almost as if Chen is afraid to speed his gate and miss something. From the opening moments of What Time is it Now - the terrific duet with Antoine Bedard (Montag) - until the closing note, Chen uses playful instruments like the triangle, toy pianos, and chimes to support his vocals, strings and programming, but never gives in the temptation to crank up the BPM and rely on energy to win over the listener. The result is you have a chance to focus on the incredibly personal admissions he offers up (Have You Seen My Girl would get lost without the melancholic composition he attaches to it).

That's not to say he doesn't fuse tracks with enjoyable juxtapositions that will charm his audience, he just approaches the conquest in a more one-on-one way. The strings he throws into the IDM heavy 65 or Older gives the track a symphony feel that carries over nicely to picked strings that balance out the heavier bass he experiments with on Half-Day Honeymoon and the delightful Sweet Solano, but the songs won't transfer to party atmospheres or even sunshine filled day. No, Person Number is created for headphones and uses (and almost requires) all 13 songs to let Chen express himself and draw you in, and while understated the results are interesting, accessible and surprisingly engaging.

MP3:: The Consulate General ft. Montag - What Time is it Now
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/theconsulategeneral
WEB:: http://www.theconsulategeneral.com/

Labels: Montag, , , The Consulate General

Posted at 7:24 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee:: Soft Copy

It's hard not to get nostalgic as Thrush Hermit preps to descend on Halifax in a mere six days. Not just for the band, but for the time and most importantly, the feelings we all took from those angular guitar anthems that seemed so plentiful only 5 years ago. Thankfully, as more and more acts hold onto the "quiet is the new loud", there are still a few acts like Toronto's Soft Copy that plug in and give fans heavy tracks with a sweet, pop center.

This three piece eschews superfluous layers for straight forward bass, drums and guitar anthems. They crunch, chug and shimmer, but the powerful trio writes hooks and choruses that keep you singing along. Vicious Modernism is the type of record that could have shaped your musical personality back when people bought records hoping to find something to hold onto, not just download and discard with little thought.

Even outside of the record, which is worth grabbing as soon as you can find a copy, First Date is one of the catchiest songs I've heard all year. Starting with soft drums, the shimmering guitar notes dance nicely before the band explodes into a driving hook. Timing out after an all too brief 2:26, this songs shows that Soft Copy isn't going to let guitar rock die... and for that we should all be thankful.

MP3:: Soft Copy - First Date

MP3:: Soft Copy - Extracurricular
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/softcopy

Labels: , , Soft Copy, ,

Posted at 9:02 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Reviews:: Walter Schreifels An Open Letter To The Scene

In the last few years, the concept of an open letter has evolved from poignant criticism or observation to a default mechanism for forced comedy akin to bashing hipsters and making videos/images of cats for satire. In the hands of most, the results are at best disappointing (at worst, rage inducing) but when done right, the message can be biting and engaging.

So when criminally underrated rocker Walter Schreifels (Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Rival Schools and Walking Concert) decided to name his latest LP, An Open Letter to the Scene, it could only go one of two ways. Thankfully, instead of an angry rant to the kids of today, this letter reads like a "how-to" for any artist looking to tackle the indie folk rock scene.

Walter has seen more than his fair share of things in the 20 years he's been writing music, and An Open Letter To The Scene shows him aging gracefully without losing his roots. He looks back with a fondness - interesting reworks of Agnostic Front's Sucker City and Don't Gotta Prove It (a song he wrote for CIV) fit perfectly into the record, as does the nostalgic title track - but the record never gets stuck in the past. He manages to add just enough muscle to keep his long time fans happy, but witty tracks like The Ballad of Lil' Kim, touching tributes (Arthur Lee's Lullabye) and reflective moments like Shootout keep Walter's songs fresh.

In the end, Walter accomplishes everything you should with an open letter and more importantly with a solo record. His opinions are presented clearly, without needless screaming or vitriol, but never is the music sacrificed for the message. An Open Letter to the Scene is full of thought provoking observations, hope but the quick hitting 30-minutes are hook laden and always enjoyable. Bloggers and cynics take note; when a seasoned pro takes the time to deliver a piece of art, instead of rushing through a "me first" exhibit, we all win.

Walter Schreifels — Arthur Lee's Lullaby from The Town Pump on Vimeo.

MP3:: Walter Schreifels - Arthur Lee's Lullaby
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/walterschreifelsmusic
BUY:: http://www.bsmrocks.com/main.html

Labels: , , Walter Schreifels

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Swing an EP in my jeep:: Dark Mean and Dave Norris & Local Ivan

A few EPs have been occupying my time lately and there are only so many hours in the day in which I can write about music. Rather than offering up a few lines to each in truncated posts spread out over the week, I decided to go all Uncle L and deliver and ep of (free) EPs.

Dark Mean - Music Box EP

Last year, this Hamilton band came out of nowhere with one of my favorite EPs of the year. Frankencottage was a crazy fusion of banjo, electronics and tempo that made it impossible to sit still whenever songs like Happy Banjo or the title track came on my iPod.

This time around, the band is using the same elements but experimenting with a darker, denser sound. The title of the closing track (Dark Banjo) is probably a give away of the emotional state they now reside in, but when you listen to the four songs on this EP you can't help but think the band has grown up emotionally in the last year. The songs don't run with the recklessness and freedom of youth; no the horns and piano, group vocals and restraint travel with the songs like the weight of heartache.

The arrangements are more intricate, and as a result, less immediate. The banjo that danced in and around the electronics and heavy kick drums now meshes with more sombre tones. Instead of chair dancing whimsy, Music Box finds the band testing their limits. The country-fused Acoustic and orchestral melodrama of Piano & Beat will shock fans of their last record, and honestly, this EP is one that will probably take time to grow on you.

That's not to say the songs don't stack up to their previous efforts; Dark Mean is just coming from a different place this time around. The smiles and darting electronics bouncing around your headphones have been replaced by sadness, but, as we all know, life isn't smiles and sunshine and music shouldn't be either.

MP3:: Dark Mean - Piano & Beat
WEB:: http://www.darkmean.com/
D/L:: http://darkmean.bandcamp.com/album/music-box-ep-2010

Dave Norris & Local Ivan - No Scuttle

Admittedly, I'm new to Dave Norris and his musical endeavors but the Ottawa native strides forward with a confidence all too often lacking in today's music scene. In ten-minutes, he gives you four songs that grab you on first note and show how much potential Dave's new set-up has to offer.

The flowing melody the band delivers on Whatever's Wrong With Heather is a terrific hook (rim-shot please!) to kickoff the EP and the percussion and synths that bulk up the catchy Look Out! show how crucial the support from Local Ivan is to the results, but it's Dave's voice that holds everything together and moving forward. The change of pace and gradual build of Jack Nicholson shows the control the band has over their sound and the use of electronics, strings and warbled synths on No Scuttle probably shouldn't fit in with the other three songs on the EP, but it's just a rewarding as any other song.

Four songs and ten minutes is not long enough to really gauge how Norris & Local Ivan will work together as a full course meal, but as an amuse bouche, No Scuttle should get music fans salivating accordingly.

MP3:: Dave Norris & Local Ivan - Look Out!
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/davenorrislocalivan
D/L:: http://davenorrislocalivan.bandcamp.com/album/no-scuttle

Labels: , Dark Mean, Dave Norris, EPs, Free.99,

Posted at 6:56 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Contest:: Win (5) copies of The Burning Hell This Charmed Life

UPDATE - all 5 copies are now gone. Thanks for entering.

It's not surprising that an artist making the long, lonely trek up North would search his inner soul for inspiration. The thing is, when it comes to The Burning Hell's front man Mathias Kom, I'm not sure he's ever held anything back from his audience. He had long since found alienation and loneliness so instead of a collection of songs offering up a glimpse into his most personal thoughts and fears, Kom's trip to Whitehorse just provided him new subject matter and settings.

What did change is how the songs were delivered. The Burning Hell has just released a tour only 12" (or downloadable record) - This Charmed Life - but instead of standing alone with his uke or with the support of his rollicking band of noisemakers, the record is Kom, his uke, the wonderful cello work of Darcy McCord, and the subtle electronics of Walter Bloodway.

Obviously, the journey affected Kom. The songs were born from random road signs and town names, cold nights and bus trips (including three moody, cinematic instrumentals written as he traveled up North) but it's the interesting arrangements that really make you sit up and take notice. Kom has always had a knack for using his sad baritone to draw you into the most bizarre lyrics, and of course that doesn't change (the record's opening line is "Robert, you're such an idiot", which sung by almost anyone else would leave even the biggest fan a bit suspicious), but the way he presents his thoughts certainly does.

Instead of uke picking, the opening number Robert's Bad End really builds from Darcy's slow bowed strings. It's a subtle shift, but gets you ready for bigger changes. The second track - Don't Let Your Guard Down - is where things get interesting. Walter adds a pulsing heartbeat to the song and Kom's staccato delivery suits it perfectly. His backbeat transforms the oddly summery riff of Last Winter into a head nodding, windows down car ready ditty that I didn't think Kom had in him. The rest of the record is equally as enjoyable and surprising. Northern Life uses a darker, almost ominous electronics and string arrangement to push Kom's trademark word play and wit into the shadows. Honestly, Kom's clever metaphors and deprecating humor benefit from the modern textures his friends add to the mix, and make this EP/LP a necessity for fans of the band.

So, how can you get a copy? Well, we have 5 - that's right 5 - digital copies up for grabs and we will make this easy. The first 5 people to email us (herohill AT gmail DOT COM) or leave their email in the comments section below will get a nice download code from zunior in return. Not a bad deal there folks, so make with the entering.

MP3:: The Burning Hell - Last Winter
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/mathiaskom
LABEL:: http://www.weewerk.com/

Labels: , , , The Burning Hell, Weewerk

Posted at 7:10 AM by ack :: 5 comments

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Quick Hitters:: Eli & Papillon

When I went up to M for Montreal this year, I was shocked by how much Francophone talent the festival delivered. Obviously, the talent exists, but on a casual listen it's so easy to dismiss the French speaking acts in our country by assuming that the language barrier makes it impossible to make a connection with the songs.

Instead, bands like Eli & Papillon work hard to force that connection on you. Elise's voice moves with an emotion and charm that helps you understand what she is saying, even if you only pick up a few words. Like a traveler in a foreign country, the romanticism you feel from catching the odd sentence as you walk by conversation after conversion puts you inside even the most personal admissions and helps you become invested in the broken hearts these two young artists bring to the plate.

But truthfully, even if you missed every word, this bedroom pop duo would still tug at your heart strings. It's hard not to hear the piano and Elise's charismatic vocals on L'aurevoir and not feel your heart beating along with the song. The song blossoms into a theatrical, almost magical effort but still manages to keep at least one toe on the ground.

For such a young act, the diversity they provide is impressive. Layers of strings, piano, guitar, bass and vocals mesh nicely - case in point the playful, uptempo Train de Vie (the laugh at the end just kills me or the swirling Un peu d'espoir - but they know when to strip everything back to the core elements as well. The piano and guitar pop gem, Une fois de trop is as straight forward as any track you will hear from the duo, but impact is surprisingly powerful.

I don't want to steep this review in hyperbole. The rough recordings of a bedroom pop act shows the band still has plenty of room to grow, but it's rare I get demos in the mail these days and instantly see the potential of a pop act trying to carve their own sound. Elise and Marc are certainly not interested in sounding like every other pop act out there right now, and that is the type of courage and creativity that can turn a bedroom pop band into something special. I for one, and excited to see where this ends up.

MP3:: Eli & Papillon - L'aurevoir

MP3:: Eli & Papillon - Train de Vie
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/elietpapillon

Labels: Eli and Papillon, Francophone, , , Pop, Quebec,

Posted at 7:42 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Quick Hitters:: Madeline adams/Your Heart Breaks/Karl Blau Tour EP

These days we don't sample from musical reservoir located South of the Border much. Too many bands, not enough posts kind of thing I guess. That being said, there are still a few artists that without fail, get instant attention from the hill. One of those artists is Karl Blau.

Blau, and really the whole Anacortes scene - anything Phil Elverum touches, Ben Kamen, Your Heart Breaks and of course, honorary Washington-ians Julie Doiron and Fred Squire - have always managed to blend lo-fi aesthetic with warming textures and depth.

Back in '08, Karl, Clyde Peterson and Madelaine got together to record a special tour EP. Obviously, the tour only CDR was tough to get a hold of, so the pretty special six-song offering went largely unnoticed. That was until this press release came from Madelaine's camp:
In the summer of 2008, Orange Twin Records artist Madeline toured the Pacific Northwest with friends Clyde Peterson (Yr Heart Breaks) and Karl Blau (solo artist, Mt. Eerie, Little Wings, D+). While hanging out in Anacordes, Washington they dropped by a local artist collective called The Department of Safety to play around in Kevin Erickson’s studio.

Friends like Phil Elverum (Mt. Eerie) and Gus Franklin (Architecture in Helsinki) dropped in and out of the studio all night to play along on drums, guitars, horns and casio keys. The resulting Tour EP has all the low-fi charm you would expect from a k-records style production, which works as an amazing juxtaposition to Madeline’s bell-voiced love songs.

Honestly, the talent packed into that studio and on these songs is enough to get anyone to listen, even someone like me that had never heard any of Madelaine's previous efforts. The three trade vocals, with Madelaine taking lead on three songs, Peterson on two and Karl delivering a terrific cover of Richmond Fontaine's Post to Wire with Madelaine, but the songs fit together like the beginning stage of a jenga tower. The EP is full of warm, casio beats and strong vocals but it's the way the vocals still manages to shine through that helps the songs hit home. The purity of Madelaine's soars above the infectious programming, hand claps and acoustic flourishes on the catchy as hell Boy you loved to watch me cry and isn't just a perfect introduction to the Athen's based singer, but also to the project in general.

Carl follows up with Holding on, another keyboard driven sad song but the real standout on this EP is the beautiful I Waited All Day. The piano ballad gives Madelaine the freedom to let her voice grab the spotlight, but she's supported nicely by well placed horns. The three-minute track stings you like a jab to the heart and really makes me realize I need to get a copy of Madelaine's upcoming album, White Fang.

MP3:: Madelaine, Your Heart Breaks & Karl Blau - I Waited All Day
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/madelinesongs
BUY:: http://www.madelinesongs.com

Labels: Anacortes, Karl Blau, Madelaine, , Your Heart Breaks

Posted at 7:23 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers

I'm an unapologetic Tom Waits fanatic. Everything about the man - from his music, to his persona, and even his eye for photos - just strikes a chord with me, so much that hearing anyone with a gruff voice described as Waits-y or some hybrid thereof (the ole whiskey worn or gargling glass voice) turns me off an artist before I even hear them. I usually turn to the terrific line from Matt Arbogast of The Gunshy, "this fucker sounds just like Tom Waits, Do we need another Tom Waits?

The thing is, Waits trademark voice is only part of the equation. The music that accompanies his gruff delivery is of equal importance. That's why when you find an artist talented enough to deserve the comparison - like Halifax resident Ben Caplan - you start to look past the powerful voice and fixate on the notes that accompany it.

Caplan and his talented band - The Casual Smokers - will undoubtedly garner review after review build around on his voice, but even when they deliver the roughest of bar room stomps, there is a surprising depth and musicianship to the songs. Stand up bass, classical trained strings (violin and cello), flute, sax and terrific use of call and response sing-along choruses all help Caplan and the Casual Smokers stand out from the masses influenced by the same sounds.

They recorded a few songs in The Chapel at the University of King's College in Halifax and mixed them the next day. Considering the tight time lines, the result - three songs: Conduit, Beautiful and Stranger - capture the energy of the band and show the potential of the upcoming full length they have slated for later in the year. The five minute Stranger finds the band moving at a restrained pace, heightening the tension before Caplan's voice explodes and dares the strings and flute to balance the effort. Beautiful shows what happens when Caplan opts for a smoother, more melodic delivery and shows the band is more than a one trick pony.

I know it's hard to judge a band on a recording session that was turned out for grants in less than 48 hours, but the interesting dichotomy works and this new band is the type of discovery that keeps us blogging. For those lucky readers here in Halifax, Ben and his band of noise makers are ready to tear up the tiny Company House stage on Friday night. I'd highly recommend showing up.

MP3:: Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers - Stranger
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/bencaplanmusic

Labels: Ben Caplan, ,

Posted at 7:59 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Plants & Animals:: Tom Cruz

The thing I've always loved about Plants & Animals is how they constantly push the limits of both fanatical and critical assumption. The band not only acknowledges, but willingly accepts the challenge of forcing people look past their varied mix of influences and think about their records as single entities that can only be digested after multiple listens. On Parc Avenue they not only got people to disregard their jam-heavy tendencies and quirky folk explorations, they had people regaling the sonic collages they built. Basically, the Montreal trio earned carte blanche to deliver another flavorful bouillabaisse of jazz, rock, and folk.

Instead, Warren, Matthew and Nicholas explode out of the gate with one of the heaviest, most muscular riffs they've ever recorded to tape. Tom Cruz still showcases the band's love of beauty in fleeting moments (the breakdown and harmonies that put the brakes on nicely at 2:51), but the core of the almost five minute adventure are the chugging bass lines, the stabs of guitar, drums and invigorating vocals. As far as excitement levels and expectations, Tom Cruz certainly puts critics and fans on notice. It's pretty obvious that La La Land - out April 20th on Secret City Records - isn't going to just be a subtle evolution of the same sounds we all loved two years ago.

MP3:: Plants & Animals - Tom Cruz
WEB:: http://www.plantsandanimals.ca/

Labels: , , , Plants and Animals

Posted at 8:30 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reviews:: Moonshine Ramblers

A few months ago I gave my friend in Toronto a couple of passes to see The Avetts play at the Horseshoe. She was new to the band, but more than willing to risk a night of letdowns to see a band I had showered with compliments for years. When I asked her what she thought, her response was very fitting.

"It was love, man. From the band. From the fans. From everyone."

While Haligonian bluegrassers, Moonshine Ramblers can't match The Avetts emotional narratives and heartbreaking balladry (although they try on Darkness and Stars), the love they show for the music they play is certainly on par. Their debut record - recorded live off the floor with some nicely executed vocal overdubs - finds the band paying homage to the past (Lonesome Road could easily be mistaken for a traditional number) in a modern, unique way.

Banjo picks dance around guitar licks, 60's era harmonies and a solid rhythm section, but the boys make sure that their appreciation of the greats doesn't result in a simple exercise of name the influence. Chicken Skull shows the musicianship is top shelf, as the harmonies are spot on, but it's the way The Ramblers slow things down with an almost sludge-y, guitar and stand up bass breakdown, before spiking the tempo back with a riff that would make the Duke boys proud. It might seem like a minor detail, but it helps the quintet from dating their efforts. The heavier tone they take on the United Steelworkers of Montreal inspired St. Stephen's Fire and the surge they deliver on Heavy Drinkin' Woman do the same.

But at the end of the day, this band is a bluegrass, banjo driven band and a talented one at that. With Old Man Luedecke getting ready to win the province (and the country over) with his claw-hammering, it might pave the way for this hardworking bunch of musicians to get back some of the love they give out.

MP3:: Moonshine Ramblers - Chicken Skull
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/themoonshineramblers

Labels: , , Moonshine Ramblers, ,

Posted at 7:05 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Reviews:: Greg MacPherson Mr. Invitation

greg macpherson - mr. invitation
For artists like Marc Morrisette, travel tales are often delivered in a hushed fashion, heavy on introspective analysis as they try to figure out what their place in the world really is. The free time and solitude that makes up a denizen's day often dictates the end result of their art.

Winnipeg native Greg MacPherson goes the other route. The opening single to his new record - Mr. Invitation - explodes into a muscular riff that heightens the intensity of his voyages. He reminds us about those first few exciting days of a trip when everything seems new, not the days that blend together as you wait for trains or fill long days by sitting in hostels or cafes.

The quick moving guitar really sets the tone for MacPherson's first record in over 4 years, one that focuses on bringing studio songs to the same excitement as his live sets. The charging pace of Backflow and Outside Edge are perfect examples. Instead of crafting stories that are best consumed alone, through headphones, MacPherson is determined to fine tune his sound to transform every moment to the heights of a live rock show. Even the personal, slow burners like and Visitor sear with an intensity that you associate with time tested narrators like Steve Earle and show MacPherson unafraid of displaying the confidence to write songs that speak to and for us all, not just for himself.

Mr. Invitation drops on March 30th, and I highly recommend you give the record the time it deserves.

MP3:: Greg MacPherson - First Class
WEB:: http://gregmacpherson.com/press/
LABEL:: http://smallmanrecords.com/

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Posted at 7:53 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee:: The Pack A.D.

The Pack A.D.
has spent more hours in a van than motivational speaker, Matt Foley. Maya and Becky watch the odometer turn for hours, just so they can deliver tour-de-force performances for their ever growing fan base. The girls are fueled by coffee and an obsession with cranking the amps up to 11 and just giving it.

Basically, I have no idea how this gritty Vancouver two-piece found time to write and record, but they are getting ready to release an anti technology LP - We Kill Computers - on Mint Records and if the lead single is any indication, they may have moved slightly away from the swampy blues and decided to smack us all in the mouth with some straight up, heavy garage riffage. Not your standard Sunday morning selection, but with the huge US vs. Canada hockey game controlling 90% of Canadians thoughts, it will certainly get you ready to rumble.

MP3:: The Pack A.D. - Crazy
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/thepackad
BUY:: http://thepackafterdeath.com/

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Posted at 8:26 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Mike Bochoff - Horror Culture

Think about every guy you've ever seen strumming the chords to High and Dry and singing the falsettos with eye closed tight in some dorm room hoping to pick up a naive freshman looking for a sensitive artist. Now, think about every former pop punker that heard Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio (or maybe that Saves the Day acoustic EP) close off records with an emotional, fast strummed acoustic ditty and tried to put together some lightning fast power chord riffs. We won't even get into the dramatic increase Jack Johnson has had on song writers.

The sheer volume of horrible acoustic songs dying to get put on display at open mic nights and house parties is overwhelming. Bottom line, buying an acoustic guitar is kind of like being able to vote; just because you have the power to exercise your voice, doesn't mean you should.

The nice thing is, for artists writing quality tracks, that volume of blah is exactly what helps them stand out. On the surface, Mike Bochoff might be using the same chords and is influenced by the same people as tons of other singers, but his new record - Horror Culture - just sticks. You start to hum the melodies and sing along on the choruses. You start letting the record repeat. Like any young song writer, the record is a bit top heavy and a bit too long but Bochoff certainly pens some songs that creep into your brain with little to no effort.

More importantly, instead of the same strums and power chords, Bochoff's experiments with sounds, instruments and textures (the Volcanoless in Canada-ish rocker The Dropout, like the more worldly sound on and the subtle female harmonies on the celtic folkish Broken Heart of Gold) helping cement that his potential is probably the most exciting aspect of this record. He's still trying to find his preferred voice; is he a working class, Irish hero, a fractured uptempo punker, a more fleshed out mature story teller? Only time will tell, but already Bochoff is a story teller above using default cliches to describe the everyday and one that keeps you listening. When its comes to a dude on an acoustic, that's the most important thing.

Plus, the video for Everything Burns is delightful. Playful marionettes and models completely contrast the song about an abusing husband and a woman fighting back and like many of Mike's songs, you find yourself just listening/watching intently.

MP3:: Mike Bochoff - Everything Burns
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/mikebochoffmusic

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Posted at 7:22 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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