Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reviews:: Mantis - Still Life

Still Life is the title of Southern-Ontario MC Mantis' debut solo album, and I think it's an appropriate choice for a hip hop album. After all, one of hip hop's great strengths is the ability to capture a vivid picture of a specific moment in time. That said, if an MC isn't able to paint a picture that the listener cares about, or can relate to, then that strength can become a weakness. For the most part, the stills that Mantis captures come out on the strength side of that ledger, but like many a young MC these days, he sometimes struggles to find a unique point of view.

What he absolutely doesn't struggle with is production skills, as this album is entirely self-produced, and it sounds fantastic. Mantis' bio makes reference to schooling he's had for production or engineering - and you can tell. The beats are all very polished, warm and crisp, and although I have no idea, it sounds like a fair bit of live instrumentation worked in.

The production might tend to steal the show on Still Life, but the vocals (from Mantis and his guests) are really well done, and some great songs result. Real To Reel pays tribute to the real portion of its name by praising the realness over a thumping beat with a really great drum track. The soul-drenched You Don't Know uses a fine, piano-laced track as the background for a track that discusses something almost any Canadian rapper is familiar with - the search for recognition. There's kind of a Simon Says vibe to the jangly guitar of Warning Shot, but unfortunately I don't think that it is lyrically up to par with that P. Monch classic. Then again, what do I know really, I'm just one of those know-nothing loudmouth critics Mantis calls out in that song.

Not sure what's in the water in the KW area, but there's something that makes MC's feel they need to try the double-time raps on at least one track. I wasn't really feeling it when Justis broke it out on his album, and I'm not a fan of Mantis' Bounce Back either. However, I am a fan of the Justis-Mantis (perhaps there's something else in the water that makes KW MC's choose "-is" ending names?) collabo What, which feels like a throwback, with a sparkly beat and some solid DJ cuts. Lay Low matches its name in tone, as it's one of the more laid back song on the album.

Although I like Still Life a great deal, there was something about it that was bothering me during my first couple listens. I eventually realized what it was: Mantis' "rappin' accent" (for lack of a better term). Now I'm not saying Mantis is a bad MC, I think, technically speaking, he's very solid, but his inflection and slang sound just a little too staged to me. Keep in mind, I could be way off on this, and so if this is indeed Mantis' at his most natural, then I do apologize. But another one of hip hop's strengths is its ability to be a form of nearly un-adulterated self expression, and after hearing Still Life, I can't help but feeling that I have no actual idea who Mantis is.

That last bit said, I don't want to end this review on the express to negative town. Mantis is clearly a talented guy, and this is a good album, so if you're interested in hearing quality Canadian hip hop, I'd search Still Life out. As for myself, I'll be watching for Mantis goes from here and hoping he builds on the promise this album shows.

MP3:: Mantis - You Don't Know
MYSPACE:: www.myspace.com/mantishiphop

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Posted at 3:03 PM by naedoo :: 1 comments

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Reviews:: Carolyn Mark & NQ Arbuckle Let's Just Stay Here

I think I’ve always like the idea of Carolyn Mark more than I’ve actually liked her output. I know that back handed compliment would make McEnroe proud and infuriate her fans (and her maybe). It’s impossible to not acknowledge or recognize her talent, but I never found her previous releases something I could sink my teeth into. Her beautiful, slightly husked voice and melancholic alt-country tunes always sound good to me on a casual listen, I just never really gravitated back for multiple listens.

Let’s Just Stay Here changes all that.

Pairing up with NQ Arbuckle and his band, Mark and Neville Quinlan shared song writing duties (six for Carolyn and three from NQ along with three covers) on this stellar LP, and the extra muscle vibes perfectly with NQ’s more raucous styling to help Carolyn find a bigger audience. The record starts with a burn, not a bang on All Time Low. Mark’s vocals are reminiscent of her Corn Sisters partner Neko Case but the smolder of the heavy guitar, steel work and backing vocals cloud the tail in darkness. I know it's just one song, but from the start she lets you know that this collection of songs won’t just float by like a gentle breeze. The trend continues when the band let loose on Downtime, When I Come Back and Canada Day Off-Toronto and cranks up the amps. It’s exactly the energy that I often felt was missing from some of Mark’s past efforts and really refreshes the listen.

Naturally, she brings heartbreak (if you don’t get a bit hurt by the gritty, piano laced beauty of The 2nd Time when she asks, “how can the second time be an accident” your soul might be hardened beyond repair) but the band also offers up glimmers of hope. Playful ditties like Let’s Just Stay Here or the mandolin heavy - courtesy of Corb Lund – ditty Itchy Feet stand proudly alongside their terrific take on the Justin Rutledge track, Too Sober To Sleep and makes this a record you can listen to regardless of mood.

I must say thought, the most exciting moments are when the duo moves more towards the pop side of the equation and let their seamless vocal interplay dominate the songs. There are breathtaking moments (like the sparkling piano ballad, Officer Down or when NQ takes the lead on the lonely road ready Saskatoon Tonight and it evolves into beautiful harmonies) that make you feel like NQ and Marks have the potential to evolve into a Can-country version of Nicks and Buckingham.

I know you will read that as hyperbole, but Let’s Just Stay Here is full of songs for the soul. Ms. Mark proves that she deserves the attention I seemed so reluctant to give her in the past. Plus, she’s a terrific cook with a couple books on how to become the host(ess) with the most. Good music. Good food. All she needs to offer up is good friends and cold beer and I might be in heaven.

MP3:: All Time Low
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/carolynmark
LABEL:: http://mintrecs.com

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Posted at 8:22 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reviews:: Black Mold Snow Blindness Is Crystal Antz

It’s quite obvious that if the 19-tracks that make up Snow Blindness Is Crystal Antz weren’t composed by one of Canada’s most talented song writers, the casual fan probably wouldn’t embrace Black Mold. Instead of listening to every track, hoping to find unique ways to compare and contrast the collection of late night synth sounds, warming organics and fragmented computer glitches to the critically acclaimed catalog Chad has created, most casual fans would listen to a few tracks and probably look for something else.

But that’s the thing. Chad’s past helps keep us listening, knowing patience will reward us with treasures and surprises. Without question, his work as Black Mold does just that. On the opening track, Metal Spider Webs, he builds a cushion of stand up bass, reeds, delicate strings and percussion before unleashing the warbled synths to introduce chaos and atmosphere that blends seamlessly into the fragmented sounds of Dr. Snouth, which sounds more like a conversation with an 80’s computer in a bad movie than a song. You start to wonder how you can digest 17 more, but then he changes pace again with the infectious, tropical feel of the cleverly named IDM inspired, Uke Puke.

In just 6-minutes, you see why Snowblind is Crystal Antz is so important. Black Mold finally gives Chad an outlet for all of his deepest thoughts and noise experiments. Using homemade and vintage instruments, sampling from influences – honestly, the lead single Tetra Pack Heads could have made it’s way into any IDM/jungle DJs list of preferred jams - that he’s unable to add to his more standard work, Black Mold is really a glimpse into the side of Chad that stays up when the sun is coming up, trying to record every single sound he creates.

Some are beautiful (Wet Ferns, Metal Spider Webs). Some make you shake your ass (Uke Puke, Gummed Desk). Some are more apt as video game or movie scores (No Dream Nation, Barn Swallow Vs. SK-1). Some feel like the portal into the mind of a twisted man (Dr. Snouth, Smoking Rat Shit). Most however are a crazy assimilation of all of those feelings, textures and sounds. He can create a melody that on its own would entertain you, but floods it with pitfalls, speed bumps and unsteady terrain that challenges you to keep listening and him to keep it all together.

Black Mold isn’t another CVG record, and really, thank god. I think these late night experiments are as important to Chad as they are to his fans. When you really listen you can hear that these tracks are like the Rosetta Stone, helping us follow the path of creation for some of his most spirited solo creations, but more importantly, they let Chad completely escape without having to stay in the confines of a record and keep his creative energy coursing through his veins.

If you head over to Flemish Eye before August 11th, you can pre-order the record and receive a bonus drop-card with 100 extra minutes of music and a poster.

MP3:: Black Mold - Metal Spider Webs

MP3:: Black Mold - Tetra Pack Heads
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/blackmoldmusic
Pre-Order:: Buy from Flemish Eye

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Posted at 7:45 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reviews:: Steven Bowers Circadian Anthem

For most musicians, the repeating cycle of inspiration is one that is hard to escape. New love, good days, better nights, heartbroken mornings; write your way through it. Everything starts and ends at the same place and sadly, once it’s written you have to sing about it night after night after night. Every time you step on stage, you get to remember the precious moments when you gave your heart away so willingly, but are also forced to relive the excruciating second when it was broken.

I’m not sure if that’s what Newfoundland transplant Steven Bowers meant when he called his new EP Circadian Anthem, but there are a few key differences between our natural sleep cycle that control our days and the ones that controls our heart. Our sleep patterns and daily routine persist without any triggers or clues and the human heart can’t seem to focus on anything but the little things that remind us all of the most significant moments. More importantly, when heartache sinks in sleep is the one relief we crave but can never get.

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.

With the help of Brian, Dale, Christina, Kelly Sloan and Fleur Mainville’s dramatic string arrangement, the gentle piano number gentle swells as the band adds layer after layer, letting the song grow in front of us and live freely. Steven sounds almost like an East Coast version of Will Johnson, and in a fitting conclusion, the layers are slowly removed and the song completes the cycle before fading to black.

MP3:: Steven Bowers - Comfortably Sweet (ft. Christina Martin)
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/stevenbowers

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Posted at 8:11 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Reviews:: Reverie Sound Revue

Without stating the obvious, 2003 was a long, long time ago. The sounds that dominated those years are long since forgotten and for most touring outfits that cut their teeth in that era, trying to successfully bridge the gap of changing landscapes and fans over a half decade in this increasingly inpatient industry is almost impossible.

Considering the fact Reverie Sound Revue broke up, sold out their original EP, got back together and haven’t released any material in the last five years makes the expectations heaped on their new LP even more surprising.

The more surprising fact is that not only did RSR meet the high expectations of fans that probably can barely remember the original members or their all too short EP, they exceeded them. Driven apart by school, location and time, Reverie Sound Revue shouldn’t have been able to create such a unique, swift slice of dreamy pop – Yes, they have the chops. They’ve always had the chops – but since reforming in 2005 they’ve never all been in the same room to record, and you’d be naive to expect such a confident record that personifies the fresh start the morning brings and moves without a single misstep.

The self-titled full length – out on Boompa now – shows that RSR is more than Lisa Lobsingers sexy coo; more than the fantastic guitar interplay Patrick Walls and Marc De Pape or a tight rhythm section. They took 5 years to record the songs, ensuring the final product was perfect and remarkably, by not rushing the process or trying to fall inline with the sounds of today, RSR has released one of the best pop records of the year.

Opening with An Anniversary Away, the band blends Lisa’s vocal presence with an airy groove that never tries to do too much. The band lets you settle into the ear pleasing tones of the dueling guitars and rapid fire drumming. When the follow it up with the bass and drum heavy, We are the Opposte of Thieves, a track that uses Libsinger’s falsetto so perfectly, you wonder if the band has used the first six-minutes to show their best work.

In reality however, the record is sequenced beautifully. Starting out of the gate with two quick moving pop nuggets they grab your attention, they pull the reigns and control the ride as Debut to a Prelude floats by like clouds, but the distorted tones the band puts over the harmonies gives it just enough traction to keep you interested. And that’s pretty well the best way to describe RSR really. Even while exploring the most pleasant melodies and dream-like textures, the band manages to keep on foot on the ground, resulting in a record that is full of singles (An Anniversary Now, Arrows, You Don't Exist if I Don't See You) but still cohesive and complete listen.

Somehow, during the extended recording and writing process, RSR stayed true to their sound but shifted enough to keep it modern and unique. I’d ask people to take a page from Reverie Sound Revue’s book, but if I had to wait another five years to hear something this good, it would be pretty tragic.

MP3:: Reverie Sound Revue - Arrows

MP3:: Reverie Sound Revue - An Anniversary Away

MYSPACE:: www.myspace.com/reveriesoundrevue
BUY:: shop.boompa.ca

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Posted at 8:39 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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