Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Local Yocals:: My Favorite NS releases of '09

With CBC threatening to cancel the 5 PM airing of the Simpson, it only seems fitting that I run a Simpsons inspired "clip-show" style post trying to bring some shine to local artists. It's been an impressive year already and with Rich Aucoin, Jon McKiel and Ruth Minnikin all holding finished records in their respective vaults, we obviously aren't done yet.

Obviously, record like Joel Plaskett, Classified and Jenn Grant would be standing high on this list, but if you are from Halifax and reading a music blog, chances are you already have an opinion on both. So here are 10 others that you should check out. Don't agree? Think Kestrels or Klarka Weinwurm should have made the list (they were close)? What about Quake's mixtape or the upcoming Hemingways LP? Well, let us know what we've missed or why we are wrong.


10) Gypsophilia - Sa-ba-da-OW!
web || Review

Their songs are still playful, as they balance tension, drama and whimsy nicely, but for some reason Sa-ba-da-OW! seems to have a stronger heartbeat and a more enriched soul.

Over the course of 11 songs they revisit traditional and familiar sounds (Jewish Dance Party and Legs Bounce for example), but it's the experiments with more soulful grooves (like the out of nowhere reggae tinged treat, You Make Time or the funk filled Sa-ba-da-OW) percussion and a willingness to stretch the borders and boundaries of timeless influences that makes this record work.

9) Steven Bowers - Circadian Anthems
myspace || MP3 - Comfortably Sweet ft. Christina Martin || Review

Bowers is an incredibly talented song writer, creating emotions and characters detailed as chapters in a book - on the atmospheric, piano Sleeping Dogs, Bowers takes the listener back to a small town and painful memories he can't discard - but it’s the arrangements he chooses that really set the tone. On the stellar Sewing Machines, he and Dale Murray harmonize over Brian Murray’s banjo, but he’s just as comfortable on the more muscular riffs of Circadian Anthem and The Hardest Thing.

But it’s the two closing tracks that really grab me on this effort. Comfortably Sweet relies on little more than an acoustic, Dale’s beautiful pedal work (and a gentle hint of mandolin) and a perfect vocal pairing with Christina Martin. It’s really the only “singer/songwriter” track on the EP and Bowers lets his words and their voices say all that needs to be said and the emotion filled track flows nicely into the full band closer, Your Life as a Piano.

8) Prospector's Union - Syracuse
myspace || MP3 - Old Wonders || Review

Matt finally finished recording Syracuse and is ready to release it to the world. Although Charlton may listen to a collection of stripped down, no nonsense artists (Townes, Mark Kozalek) this “home” recording is remarkably lush and defined. With support from the likes of Christina Martin, Daniel Ledwell, John Mullane, Andrew Sisk, Jason MacIsaac, Kinley Dowling, and David Casey, Syracuse plays more like a studio odyssey than a local, independent release.

More importantly, even with all the expert production and contributors, Charlton puts himself front and centre. With only a few picked notes, echoing subtle drums and Christina Martin's harmonies, Flaming Death is dark, but engaging. Over time, Ledwell’s steel work and MacIssac’s atmospheric keys are added and echo in the emptiness of the song, taking some of the weight off the harrowing tale, but it's Charlton's voice that grabs your ear. Even with the talent that surrounds him and the layers that move in and out of the song, he never fades to the background.

7) Doug Mason - Fox Pirate
myspace || Review

I mean, being honest, Doug isn't going to win a Juno for his songwriting (then again, does anyone good win Junos? HI-O!!!), but his songs are fun, and pretension-free, and they've won me over. Well it also helps that they're also mighty catchy (I honestly still have no clue what Ranchus And Ryukins is about, goldfish maybe? But it was stuck in my head for a few days), and well made (there are plenty of welcome little touches to be found, like the backwards-sounding guitar on the outro to It's True This Time). As on his previous releases, Doug recruited some of his musically inclined friends (Cliff Gibb, Jarrett Murphy, and Dave Chisholm) to help him on the record, but all the recording and mixing was done by Doug in his home studio, also dubbed Poutine Village.


6) Cousins - Out On Town
myspace || MP3 - Jon Schehr 32 || Review

Aaron Mangle seems like a pretty unassuming dude, but with the support of his new band, his songs leave a mark. Out on Town is a debut record – 10 songs, a few stumbles, but moments of brilliance that make bloggers and critics giddy – and it’s already one of my favorite local releases of the year. The folk scene here is producing some high quality acts. So is the noise scene, but Cousins is the only band I’ve stumbled on that combines the two. Aggressive, truncated strums and distorted notes give the songs life, but the melancholic, brooding pace and Mangle’s falsetto give the songs a warming glow. He manages to sound unique and interesting, but completely accessible at the exact same time.

5) Something Good - Just Add Water
myspace || MP3 - Did That || Review

If anything, Shane is willing to give any local hip hop artist a fair shake, but rarely does he get blow away. One quick read of his take on Markit and Boy-Ill's newest long player shows that not only is hip hop not dead, The Hali scene can hold its own against the bigger cities across Canada.

Tell me something good. For most, that sentence brings to mind a sultry entreaty from Chaka and her friends Rufus, but if you're a hip hop fan of a certain vintage (like myself), it can also serve as a plea to many of today's hip hop artists, who all too often deliver something quite the opposite of good. But all is far from lost where hip hop is concerned, and we can be thankful that hip hop's next generation still contains folks like the four dedicated lads in the Halifax/Montreal collective, Something Good.

4) Caledonia - We Are America
myspace || MP3 - We Are America || Review

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.

3) The Got To Get Got - Sahalee
myspace || MP3 - Rattle Off || Review

I had high expectations for the record and The Got To Get Got easily Fosbury flopped over the bar. They also managed to supplement the local talent with some of the best musicians we have in the Canadian scene (members of Ohbijou, Plants & Animals, Sebastien Granger & The Mountains and the lovely Angela Desveaux) without disrupting the sound the band creates. If fact, without liner notes I doubt even the most devout fan could highlight the exact moments when the "ringers" help out.


2) York Redoubt - York Redoubt
myspace || MP3 - I Said Slightly || Review

I know. I know. I just reviewed this yesterday, but the beautiful combination of noise, melody, shock, and chaos remind you why I love music. These guys have the spirit, energy AND talent of the great 90's scene, but don't sound dated or fabricated. This one is a must have folks and also shows that noyes records is delivering the goods.

1) The Lodge - Take That Devil
myspace || MP3 - Forget the Silence || Review

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.”

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted at 7:15 AM by ack :: 0 comments

add to facebook add to del.icio.us Digg this Googlize this post add to Yahoo

Monday, July 6, 2009

herohill / music nova scotia artist of the month:: Prospector's Union

When it comes to promoting East Coast acts, there aren’t many people working harder than Matt Charlton (well, except us of course). I remember when herohill first started getting emails from his PR firm – efficient, easy to download snippets without any of the glowing hyberbole that plagues not only music PR people, but bloggers as well – and I assumed Matt was just a guy that loved music and wanted to find a way to make a living from it.

Now, a year or so later his roster has grown and he's helping acts get outside the Maritimes and get heard by a bigger audience, but it's his song writing that really grabs my attention. I had no idea he even played until last year's Halifax Pop Explosion when he opened for The Retribution Gospel Choir. That night, he stood on stage – well, on the slightly raised floor of St. Matthew’s Church - with some of Nova Scotia’s most talented artists (Daniel Ledwell, Christina Martin, John Mullane, Andrew Sisk to name a few) and let his voice and melodies boom out the open front door and onto the street. Since that night, I’ve been harassing him about getting off his ass and releasing the debut Prospectors Union record.

Well, that day is getting very, very close.

Matt finally finished recording Syracuse and is ready to release it to the world. Although Charlton may listen to a collection of stripped down, no nonsense artists (Townes, Mark Kozalek) this “home” recording is remarkably lush and defined. With support from the likes of Martin, Ledwell, Mullane, Sisk, Jason MacIsaac, Kinley Dowling, and David Casey, Syracuse plays more like a studio odyssey than a local, independent release.

more importantly, even with all the expert production and contributors, Charlton puts himself front and centre. With only a few picked notes, echoing subtle drums and Christina Martin's harmonies, Flaming Death is dark, but engaging. Over time, Ledwell’s steel work and MacIssac’s atmospheric keys are added and echo in the emptiness of the song, taking some of the weight off the harrowing tale, but it's Charlton's voice that grabs your ear. Even with the talent that surrounds him and the layers that move in and out of the song, he never fades to the background.

The same can be said about the confident strums of Storm Seas. Charlton shows he’s a natural story teller. The song could have easily stood on his strong foundation, but slowly the band adds group harmonies that hover in the distance. It might not seem like much, but the vocal support makes this more than a coffee/shop open mic song and even though it's only a hiccup longer than 1:30, Storm Seas says as much about the recording as any of the tracks. It's well thought out, shows how comfortable the musicians are around each other, and that Charlton isn’t a fan of wasted notes.

Dowling’s ear grabbing strings, Martin’s backing vocals are thickened up by nice drums and keys, but again, it’s Charlton taking the lead on the EP’s catchiest track, Montreal. Matt may prefers the tale of the brokenhearted wanderer, but unlike so many young songwriters, he doesn’t let his melancholy dictate the tempo of an affair. Montreal shifts and moves, and the spike in pace lets you relax as the band downshifts into slower tracks.

One thing I really like about this EP was how much restraint the all-star backing band displays. On the closer, The Valley Neighbours, the song is beefed up with slide, harmonies, keys, keep time drums and a choral outro all make an appearance, but none of the layers ever crowd the mix or distract from the melody. The song would work just as well – and does in a live setting – with an acoustic and a second mic. It’s obvious that Charlton can’t pack most of these people in a van every time he wants to play a show, so it's crucial that the structure of the songs lets him grab a guitar and play alone OR treat the audience to a hybrid of the supergroup he assembled for the EP.

The EP release show is July 18th/09 @ The Seahorse. I’d wager it will be packed with friends of Matt’s coming out to say congrats and there will be more than a few guest appearances. I’d highly suggest you make it out too.








MP3:: Prospector's Union - Salt City Blues







MP3:: Prospector's Union - Flaming Death

MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/theprospectorsunion



But as a special treat for herohill, Charlton grabbed a few friends and recorded a live EP and is letting us give it away to you readers. The four songs show a rougher side of the band’s persona; one more concerned with smiles, wine and a night of music than intricate production. They still toss around strings, horns and terrific harmonies, but they feel more spontaneous and alive.

Without question, Old Wonders is a different beast; from the poppy feel of Edmunston, to the roots rocking, earthy vibe of More Tales Involving a Man of Questionable Morals or the back porch feel of Raven’s Claw, the songs stand up without any of the glossy efforts of a classic studio recording. Ledwell lets less be more and Charlton shows he’s got a lot of bullets left in his gun – plus, Jason’s keys and Dan’s trumpet just make you melt – and Prospectors Union is a name we will all hear a lot more off in the near future.

Recording info:
John Mullane: Guitar, backing vox
Christina Martin: Guitar, backing vox
Daniel Ledwell: Lap slide, trumpet...and he produced the whole thing
Jason Michael MacIsaac: Piano
Kinley Dowling: Violin
Matt Charlton: Guitar, vocals

Download Old Wonders
1.) Prospector's Union - Edmunston
2.) Prospector's Union Raven's Claw
3.) Prospector's Union - More Tales Involving a Man of Questionable Morals
4.) Prospector' Union - Old Wonders

Labels: , Christina Martin, Dan Ledwell, , Inflight Safety, John Mullane, , , ,

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

add to facebook add to del.icio.us Digg this Googlize this post add to Yahoo