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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, , ,

Posted at 7:13 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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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

Posted at 8:45 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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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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Monday, April 5, 2010

Reviews:: Homo Duplex 01 EP

When you consider the shocking difference between the sounds that Ron Bates of The Memories Attack and Kristina Parlee of The Maynards are known for, a side project with the name Homo Duplex seems like an over reaching effort. Latin for double human, the genesis of the band is the near impossible task of fusing Bates' gear head mentality and love of noise with Parlee's dedication to the mission of converting each and every venue she plays into a party with peppy, indie-dance gems.

But when you hear the three songs the duo is giving away on their debut EP - 01 - you start to see how well they know each others strengths and weaknesses. You see, Bates and Parlee are married, and even if their preferred sounds aren't completely in line, the concessions of life and the effort needed to make a marriage work translated well for them in music too.

Of course there are moments when you hear one member of the duo stepping forward with their comfortable sonic palette - Kristina's staccato delivery on the opening minute of Rough Dough or the Bates favored noisy sludge that frames Deadly Understudy - but the songs are a new journey for both artists, and I think the process helped focus the effort. The duo simply put themes, ideas and tempos in a hat and then drew them out to determine the subject and structure. It might sound like an obvious way to start writing songs (or more accurately, a ridiculous one), but that process let Bates and Parlee focus on a single vision for each song and draw on years of experience as they played with new sounds.

Kristina and Ron use emotion and mood nicely over all three songs, peaking interest and energy at just the right times without resorting to uptempo gimmicks to keep the listener engaged. Each song has unexpected moments of grit, beauty and substance, making Homo Duplex much more than another electro tinged experiment. The heavy beat they drop on Rough Dough changes the mood and unsettles the listener, but after that frantic beginning they settle into a slow moving, beautiful vibe. The simple, organic piano line that starts the aptly named Bleak Creek is just as surprising and incredibly powerful but it's the way they slowly spiral the track to the brink of chaos that really makes the song.

I'm not sure what is next for Homo Duplex, but even if they simply go back to their "day" jobs and 01 is the only output we get from Kristina and Ron, it's one of the best things I've heard come out of Halifax this year and should be downloaded ASAP. They are giving away the songs for free, but honestly, for the amount of times you will let these songs loop, I'd suggest tossing in some bucks to say thanks.

MP3:: Homo Duplex - Rough Dough
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/homoduplex
D/L:: http://homoduplex.bandcamp.com/

Labels: , , , Homo Duplex, Mood,

Posted at 7:35 AM by ack :: 0 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: , , , ,

Posted at 8:31 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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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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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Contest:: Old Man Luedecke My Hands Are On Fire and Other Love Songs

The art of story telling is one that is slowly getting stripped from the conventional song writer. There are countless artists willing to get on stage and start talking about an exaggerated love that started hot and burned out even quicker or pen obvious political agendas cased in minor chords to sound important, but exposing an honest connection to their soul is as fleeting as setting sun.

For Chris "Old Man" Luedecke, years of traveling the road alone have only reinforced the connection he makes with those that chose to listen. Instead of pontificating from his pulpit, he plays show after show filled with bar room conversations, tangential anecdotes and clawhammer melodies delivered with the support of only his stomping left foot and a few sing-along choruses. These performances have defined Luedecke as a performer, earned him praise from his peers and his fans (including the 2009 Juno for Best Roots album) and renewed our faith in song writers. This time around though, Chris isn't alone. Backed by a stellar collection of musicians and guided by Steve Dawson's skilled production, My Hands Are On Fire And Other Love Songs shows Luedecke branching out of his comfort zone and experimenting with bolder textures and interactions.

In some cases, the band's help is subtle (the guitar work that is added to the bridge on Rear Guard and the nice fiddle on Foreign Tongue simply fill out the song and give it another layer to grab the listener's ear) but on tracks like Mountain Plain and Woe Betide The Doer Of The Dead, Tim O’Brien's fiddle mandolin and Dawson's guitar dance alongside Luedecke's trusted banjo with remarkable success. Hell, he even pays tribute to Willie P. Bennett with a nice cover of Caney Fork River (taken from the Canadian legend's last record, where interestingly enough, Bennett too experimented with full band arrangements).

But as much as things change, the more they stay the same. Luedecke songs still feel like he's sharing a pint with each and every listener saddled up on adjacent bar stools. Even when the arrangements are fleshed out and the sound is full, he's able to discuss intimate heartbreak (the immensely sad tale of infertility, The Palace is Golden) and venture into current political landscape without agenda, coldness or adding an unmanageable weight to the affair. Luedecke eschews the draw of the vain rock star or even the proletariat, working class hero as he follows his own path and sings his own songs. He comes off like a friendly stranger, a friend willing that values each discussion you have, or I suppose, the uncle or grandfather that is always ready with smile and a yarn to spin.

Chris is no stranger to the road, and he's heading up from Chester to play a special show at the Rebecca Cohn on April 30th. We have two tickets for one lucky winner, and all you have to do is email us your contact info or leave a comment down below. Good luck!

MP3:: Old Man Luedecke - Rear Guard
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/oldmanluedecke
WEB:: http://www.oldmanluedecke.ca/

Labels: Banjo, , , , Old Man Luedecke,

Posted at 7:10 AM by ack :: 6 comments

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reviews:: Fred Squire S/T

It's not surprising that Fred Squire just released his latest record to little or no fanfare; that's kind of been the way the talented Sackville resident has approached his entire career. His purist vision (bordering on insane in today's "me first" market) that good music will eventually get heard is becoming less and less of a reality. Demos are sent to blogs within minutes of being recorded. Albums are traded freely months before release, but almost defiantly, Squire actually removes himself farther from the machine as the only "releases" this 7-song record gets is on cd-rs cased in a manila envelope, destined for only the most devout fans lucky to either know Fred or catch a show.

And that borders on a musical tragedy.

Squire's voice and subtle, distorted guitar should have pushed him to the top of the Can-Indie rock list by now - and underneath the barely audible vocals of the opening track What's That Over There, a Dead Rainbow? is the ever present chugging electric engine that has driven most of his previous work (and the bluesy stomp of We Are All The Middle Child I guess) - but it's the remaining songs that make this record so important in terms of how his music is judged.

The record plays like a moment of clarity; Squire is as honest and exposed as I've heard him. Piano ballads strips out most of the distorted safety net his Crazy Horse guitar style provides, and reveals subject matter is incredibly powerful and heart felt. The accordion, string laced instrumental End of Previous Song unsettles the listener and unshackles the chains that expectations have put on Squire's catalog. The droning melody reveals seconds of beauty, before Squire hits us with beautiful harmonies on the spiritual, acoustic/piano ballad You Sing High, We Will Sing Low.

It's so easy to forget that Fred's voice can pierce through the clunkiest of riffs and distorted energy, but on the stripped down tracks he provides here, it's almost hypnotic. The simple piano chord progression that starts Old Times Past Times is the perfect stage for Squire to grab the listeners before infusing the track with drums and tasteful electric. Fred walks us down moments of his life, never letting the pace or volume distract us from his words, and as he repeats, "the decisions that I made" you never get the sense he's heavy with regret, he's just finally willing to talk about some of the events that have stuck with him.

The truly amazing thing about this record is that even though the first few songs rank high among my favorite pieces he's ever written, Frankie & Albert might become the song that shows Squire reaching the summit of his potential. The effortless combination of piano and guitar are as honest a melody as I can remember and fit perfectly with the 5-minutes of heartbreak Fred sings about. Love, loss, pain, death and fear; these themes are ever present in music, but when they are delivered as perfectly as they are on Frankie & Albert, the results are enough to make you cry.

So is the fact that almost nobody will get to hear the song and share the experience.

MP3:: Fred Squire - Frankie & Albert

MP3:: Fred Squire - Old Times, Past Times
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/calmdownitsmonday
BUY:: Good luck

Labels: , , , ,

Posted at 8:15 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reviews:: Share Coco et Co.

A few years ago, Nebraskan song writer Josh Rouse picked up and moved to Spain and his song writing was impacted immensely by the journey. The country western spin he put on his acoustic driven melodies gave way to a more breezy European pop and Rouse's style was reborn. For Andrew Sisk - a.k.a. Share - the move may have only been one province to the left instead of across the Atlantic, but the rewards were just as fruitful.

As Sisk finds a new life in Montreal, it's quite obvious the language, architecture and lifestyle of the city have already changed his point-of-view. Instead of the lush, full band tracks he penned with help from the Forward Family for Slumping in your Murals, Sisk strips everything back to nylon stringed guitars, simple programming and the support of a few new friends. Sisk handles the dramatic shift nicely on this three-song EP. Opening with a more standard, country-indie rock effort - A Pause - the fantastic steel work Mike Feuerstack (Snailhouse) delivers is as comforting as an old sweater for fans of Sisk's previous releases, but without question it's the last two tracks that really showcase the new sound.

Brisé is an almost weightless melody that floats over top of some simple programming, but really lets Sisk and Miranda Durka's traded vocals steal the spotlight. You might be tempted to think that Andrew moved to Montreal and stumbled on someone's collection of French pop, but to me it feels more like he's finding his stride in a new city, without forgetting his roots. The bossa nova influence and bi-lingual vocals feel natural, not forced and everything comes together on the shaker heavy closing number, Et Cetera. Vibraphone dances behind the vocals, simple picked and strummed notes keep you moving forward but it's how well Durka and Sisk work together that makes the song something more than the sum of it's minimal parts.

Coco et Co.; it's only 3-songs and doesn't even reach 9-minutes, but Sisk has sent notice that he is sampling from a new inspirational reservoir and I for one can't wait to see where his journey takes him. Even better? Forward Music is giving you this snappy EP for the low, low cost of free. So head over and hear for yourself.

MP3:: Share - Et Cetera

MP3:: Share - A Pause

MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/andrewsisk
D/L:: http://www.forwardmusicgroup.com/albums/cocoetco.zip

Labels: , , , , ,

Posted at 8:10 AM by ack :: 0 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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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

Posted at 9:06 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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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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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

Labels: , , mike bochoff, ,

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

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reviews:: koAk - In the Sun

As the indie music scene gets more and more flooded with with lo-fi, sun kissed melodies, it becomes harder and harder to remember that rough bedroom recordings have been a way of life for artists long before chill-wave or bro-fi became the flavor of the week. Those lo-fi recordings weren't done to mask limitations; they were used to add life and reality to the songs.

For NB's Ian Wilson - a.k.a. koAk - his preferred collage of fuzz, acoustics and drums has been evolving for years and stems from legends like The Microphones and Eric's Trip not Memory Tapes and Washed Out. KoAk's new record disregards a reliance on synths and samples, as Wilson adds to his structures with sonic blasts and distortion, but this time around, Ian and Meg expanded their sound by fusing in a slowed down surf rock feel to the appropriately titled, In the Sun.

Instead of beach side relaxation and sun bronzed, Dick Dale influenced shakers, the songs move at the pace of a lazy, sun-filled afternoon allowing the psychedelic tones transform the lo-fi tracks in something unexpected and transfixing. There are moments of jaw dropping beauty - the album bookends, Sleepytime (destined to soundtrack your night when the party ends and the sun starts to creep up over the horizon) and Delinelle (an opener that fulfils the crucial task of engaging you in the LP from the opening note) certainly standout - but koAK's liberal use of traditional sounds and mood prevents the dreaded blending of tracks.

They still offer up drone filled bliss, but even the muddiest of terrain - except maybe Highnoon Harmonica - seems to be free from clouds and shadows. The hint of warmth and some nice harmonies gives the songs a soul that powers through. The drums and feedback are simply used for support and embellishment, not distraction. In the Sun manages to surprise and excite you, but also relax you as the 40 minutes starts to wash over you.

Oh, and the band is giving it away for free.

MP3:: koAk - Sleepytime
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/koakrock
WEB:: http://koakrecordings.blogspot.com/

Labels: , koAk, , ,

Posted at 1:01 PM by ack :: 1 comments

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reviews:: Steve Poltz - Dreamhouse

It's a bit surprising that we haven't beat you over the head with Steve Poltz coverage here on herohill. Considering the Halifax born, San Diego resident has been writing music for years and how easy it is to sink in to his mix of charm, humour and simple, but amazingly catchy melodies, you'd think every update he offers would be documented in all of the social media outlets the hill has access to.

Sadly, that's not the case. This is our first post on the man and even though I thoroughly enjoyed anything I've heard from him and his charismatic live show, I never made the effort to put pen to paper so to speak.

The remarkable thing about the 50-year old, road warrior is how current his sounds can be. For a man that's been writing songs for decades and fine tuning his own unique style, Poltz's latest effort - Dreamhouse - isn't just a rehash of old tricks and finds him meshing perfectly with some of Nova Scotia's most notable names (Jenn Grant's - whose harmonies sound perfect throughout the record, David Myles and of course, Joel Plaskett). I know that shouldn't be a surprise considering that Poltz is probably best known for his collaboration with Jewel, but Dreamhouse really shows a mature song writer that is able to benefit from his experience and still try new sounds.

I'm not sure how much that has to do with Joel's input on production - from an outsider's ear, Digging for Icicles has a lot of Plaskett's signature sounds and how the pair interacts on License Plate Eyes is worth the price of admission - or just Poltz flexing his song writer muscle, but it really doesn't matter. Steve sings with a smile and an optimistic spirit as he throws in often hilarious word play (Wish the Wind) and lighthearted, airy sing-alongs (I Love What You've Done With This Place) alongside heartbreaking tales (Dreams #23 and Dog in Bosnia - which incidentally sounds like it could be a Tom Brosseau effort) and powerful instrumentals (A Song for Kosovo).

I'm not sure if Dreamhouse will change Poltz's status among casual music fans (a quick look shows that without the undying support of songsillinois.net, he's almost be ignored in the blog world), but for those that already know how enjoyable his music is, this record will be another gem in his sparkling catalog.

MP3:: Steve Poltz - Digging for Icicles

MP3:: Steve Poltz - Dog in Bosnia (Daytrotter)
WEB:: http://poltz.com//blognews/index.html

Labels: , , Steve Poltz

Posted at 7:56 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Reviews:: Zeus Say Us

Zeus - Say Us

It's hard not to push Zeus into the stratosphere after an out-of-nowhere EP that offered a brief glimpse at the heights they can reach. The retro-fueled quartet from Toronto has been working hard to find their sound; whether as part of successful and highly underrated bands (The 6ixty Eights and The Golden Dogs) or out on tour as Jason Collett's backing band, and as hard as it is to not build a comparison on another multi-voiced band that got it's start playing behind a great artist, it's even harder to ignore the obvious mythological tie-in to the power and status the band could achieve.

But for me, Say Us actually brings another classic tale to mind. Icarus was given the gift of flight thanks to the precision craftsmanship of his father Daedalus. Zeus too rockets from the ground with hooks, harmonies and melodies that are indebted to their predecessors (The Beatles, The Kinks and yes, The Band ). Don't get me wrong, the band puts their own, more muscular spin on the sweet sounds music lovers have gravitated to for years, and naturally, that swagger and confidence pushes band higher and higher. Sadly at times, Say Us gets too close to the sun, singing the tips of the wings that gave the band flight.

But unlike the classic tale of the impetuousness of youth, great music only comes from taking risks, especially when you find the ingredients in a cupboard pillaged by countless bands. Zeus thrives on a confidence and precision that results in a musical freedom and while Say Us might not be the start to finish transcendent escape we all hoped for, for the precious moments when they soar without fear or repercussion (How Does It Feel?, Kindergarden, and I Know stack up against any of the output of any Canadian band out there today), this TO quartet owns the sky and you realize with a bit more patience there's no limit to the heights they can fly.

MP3:: Zeus - Marching Through Your Head
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/themusicofzeus
LABEL:: http://www.arts-crafts.ca/

Labels: , , ,

Posted at 9:00 AM by ack :: 2 comments

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Reviews:: Matthew Barber True Believer

It's not surprising that Matthew Barber's upcoming release - True Believer - is flying under the radar of most of the sites I read and most of the music loving public in general. Barber is easy to classify - essentially he's a rock solid song writer that could charm you with just an acoustic or a piano - but the surprising range he presents when he writes songs makes it almost to lock into a sound or style. His understated arrangements consistently display his talent, but really don't translate into press quotes and hyperbole. He can't be put in a box with a generic, "he sounds like X + Y and a little Z" and sadly, that leaves this incredibly talented musician in a bit of a critical purgatory.

Descriptors like effortless, timeless, and classic are easy to throw around but really don't equate to anything you can hold onto. At the end of the day - to bastardize a Miles Davis quote - music either makes you smile and tap your foot or it doesn't. It would be easy if saying that Barber's songs make you move was enough, but the undeniable shift in how we gauge song writers makes that almost impossible. Barber's influences are people that wrote songs for the masses, unashamed that their strums made people happy, dominated the radio and could be enjoyed by anyone that listened, so why should we not extend the same courtesy to song writers in the current age?

I guess in an ironic twist, Barber puts out record after record of songs that fit all of those qualifiers but you rarely hear his name mentioned among our nation's best. To be honest though, I think Barber is ok with that and if pushed, he might say that he'd rather his songs be compared to his predecessors instead of his peers. So when he and producer Howie Beck sat down to record True Believer and Barber says that he was influenced by Neil Young, Tom Petty, Al Green, The Boss and The Band, I think those names are listed as a sign of respect and a potential measuring stick but not a blueprint for his sound. Barber doesn't want to sound like them, he simply wants his catalog to stand alongside theirs. Even when he adds some summery Paul Simon-esque guitar and percussion, the song is still built on Barber's musical foundation.

That small but significant difference is why the stripped down melodies he offers on True Believer are so infectious. Instead of forcing comparisons, you simply settle into the record knowing Barber's sound is his own. With only some perfect harmonies and a picked guitar line, Barber captivates the listener on The Little Things. Even when he beefs up the sound, layers are added for impact, not novelty. The booming horns and strings that get you nodding on the title track or the banjo and finger snaps that catch your ear on Comeback Baby never detract from the guitar and vocals, they just complete the sound. The gentle swell of horns on Revolution of the Sun don't overwhelm you, they force you to focus on his words and feel his emotion.

The ten songs on True Believer show the trademark flexibility of his voice - it's hard to imagine another contemporary artist that can deliver a perfect road trip anthem (Hawks on the Highway) and still sound completely comfortable on the most spare arrangements (Suddenly) or sharing the vocals with his talented sister (@JillBarber) - and should help cement his status as one of Canada's greats. I guess it all depends if people are ready to say sounding like Matt Barber instead of the slew of artists on which we gauge every song writer is finally good enough or not. Hopefully you are, because I certainly am.

MP3:: Matthew Barber - Revolution of the Sun
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/mbarber
BUY:: outside-music.com

Labels: , Matthew Barber, , , ,

Posted at 7:19 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Reviews:: Aidan Knight Versicolour

It's very fitting that BC's Aidan Knight is traveling the West Coast in the luxurious comfort of Dan Mangan's van. That comparison isn't based on a similarity of sound, more that both BC boys have that something... whether it's the ability to turn the simplest of chords into something meaningful, the subtle turn of phrase that puts you along side them as the story is told or how they can cram layer after layer into a beautiful composition and never get lost in the mix. Whatever "it" is, both young song writers possess that talent in spades.

The thing is while Dan is a bar room prophet, a man observing the human condition from the stool in the bar or restaurant, Aidan Knight comes across as more of an innocent, wide eyed poet. By no means is that a slight, as Versicolour effortlessly strips away the stress of life with each picked riff, vocal harmony (courtesy of the lovely girls in O'Darling) and subtle nuance that catches your ear as you listen to Knight's 8-song debut.

If I had to pick a single moment of Versicolour, it would be the gentle collage of banjo and steel that run alongside the summery guitar of Jasper, and the immediate release you feel. Be it the baggage of stress or heartache, it's hard to focus on Aidan's lyrics because the three and a half minutes transports you to a better time. It's impossible to see this song through Knight's eyes, as he paints a scene we all hold close. I'd say it's that freedom of youth, but that would trivialize the emotion he delivers. Some people find salvation singing in church, letting the sway of the congregation cleanse their soul. Aidan lets us feel that same relief just by triggering memories when life just made sense.

That's not to say this record lacks depth or maturity. Knight moves from sun to shade nicely throughout this quick hitting LP; the beautiful Altar Boys is heavy in melancholy, Knitting Something Nice For You makes a song about knitting like a metaphor for a heroine user and even the opening number, The Sun uses atmosphere and piano to set a darker tone before horns and harmonies brighten the affair) - it's just when his melodies float along Fighting Against Your Lungs, the songs tend to soar.

Regardless, whether he tends to look for the sun or relish the shadows, it's pretty obvious Aidan will be successful. I wouldn't bank on the astronomical leap his current tour mate has seen, but I'm pretty sure once people get their hands on Vescicolour and give the record a few plays, he's no longer going to be an unknown solo artist playing in support for other bands.

MP3:: Aidan Knight - Jasper
MYSPACE:: whttp://www.myspace.com/aidanknightmusic

Labels: Aidan Knight, , , ,

Posted at 7:14 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Best local releases:: Bad Vibrations Bad Vibrations EP

We've already beat you into submission when it comes to Saturday's scorching Seahorse sets (alliteration, you know you love it). Toronto's The Balconies are blogging their way across the Maritimes and partnering with some stellar local talent to make sure you get rocked. Cold Warps and Soaking Up Jagged are two acts familiar to many local music lovers, but the diamond in the rough for this show is Bad Vibrations.

Led by front man KC Spidle (The Hold, Husband & Knife, Dog Day), for the most part this three-piece is a wall of guitars, bass and drums; nothing more and nothing less. Topping out at 20 minutes, pounding chords and keep time drums (apparently, Meg had never played drums before the band started) are the backbone of most tracks (Got to Run, We're Dead and Care About Yourself), but when you really get into the 9 songs (well 8 really, as one is just an odd answering machine message) you realize there is something more to Bad Vibrations.

Harmonies and surprising melody creep into the chaos, and the band shows nice depth considering how new they are. Nowhere is this more clear than the harmonic, atmospheric opener Think About Life. The strums of the acoustic and echoing vocals that hover in the distance show that Bad Vibrations isn't just here to reproduce sounds that have been around for decades. No, Bad Vibrations want to form their own sound in a genre that makes it incredibly tough to do so. More importantly, this EP lets anyone born after 1980 that punk ain't quite dead yet, it's just grown up and left the mall behind.

MP3:: Bad Vibrations - Care About Yourself
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/bdvbes
BUY:: Buy from Zunior

Labels: Bad Vibrations, , ,

Posted at 8:40 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reviews:: Ian La Rue & the Condor A History of Layers

When people think of Winnipeg, thoughts undoubtedly drift to the Golden Boy, Louis Riel's home and frigid winters. Thanks to talented song writers like John K. Samson, we all have vivid mental images of a city most have never even stopped in; the music we love has made their stories our stories. We've all been on that bus or alone in that shitty apartment. We've all spent cold nights with broken hearts and broken dreams, trapped in The Gateway to the West. Undoubtedly, we've all hated or loved the Winnipeg Jets and muttered, "I Hate Winnipeg" with more conviction than we have about any other city.

Without typecasting the sound - especially after we found out just how diverse the sound was on our Manitoba mixtape - I've found a surprisingly high number of acts that effortless blend emotion, energy, characters and heart into surging anthems that make you move, even when you focus in on what's being said. Whether it's The Weakerthans, The Paperbacks (a band Ian shares a sound and member with) or new to me, but seasoned vet of several releases, Ian La Rue & The Condor, Winnipeg seems to be full of artists that pen songs tug on your heart strings, but sound better the louder you crank them up.

A History of Layers is heavy on sing-alongs and fist pumpers (Sanguine Cursive, Cadence) and slow burning ballads (A Crow's Flight, Altruist's Anthem), but La Rue never hides his narratives behind the music. On every song, you get the impression the words La Rue sings mean something to him, and as a result, they mean something to us. More importantly, no matter how much emotion the Winterpegger adds to his songs, he never drifts into the emo-esque emotional realm that caters to angst ridden mall teens and no one else. The record is accessible and easy, but has a depth you don't get from people that haven't experienced life.

La Rue's songs move with a sense of purpose. The undercurrents that run through the record's narratives (fear is the one that you get hit with most often) are matched with atmospheric undercurrents that add drama and electricity to even the most restrained of songs. The B-side of the record is slowed in pace, but the Condor (his band) really thickens up the mix and keep things interesting. The nicely executed slow build of the penultimate track - And It All Comes Down To This - is heavily influenced by Death Cab for Cutie, a band La Rue sites as a potential jump off point for new fans. A History of Layers may never reach the heights of Gibbard's best work, but it certainly fares well enough to warrant the comparison.

MP3:: Ian La Rue & the Condor - Sanguine Cursive

MP3:: Ian La Rue & the Condor - A Crow's Flight
MYSPACE:: www.myspace.com/ianlaruemusic
BUY:: http://www.ianlarue.ca

Labels: , Ian La Rue, , ,

Posted at 7:18 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Reviews:: Woodhands Remorsecapade

When it comes to electronic beats, keytar licks and spasmatic drumming I'm kind of like the Philadelphia Eagles of blogging; even in when the situation deems otherwise, I tend to pass. I'm not really trying to get amped up for the clubs and freaking the funk to the early light these days, so it's no surprise that pedal steel, acoustic and the banjo tend to dominate my listening patterns more than beats.

But when it comes to Toronto's Woodhands, they might just be the proselytizers that open up my ears (and my closed mind) to different sounds. Dan Werb and Paul Banwatt have the unique ability to write a love song, one that runs you over with sadness and could uncovered on a dive bar jukebox, but hide the message in frantic shout/screamed vocals, an almost punk rock like anger and drums that never give up.

You could dance all night to the Cansecos-inspired hook and vocals of Talk, the Maylee Todd/Dan Werb duet Dissembler or Sluts (especially when the breakdown gives the track a spacey like vibe), but you can also listen to the record in almost any situation. When the duo is operating at top speed, Werb delivers his message with the energy of one of the crazy Kensington Market preachers or a hardcore front man (just listen to I should have gone with my friends) and Banwatt's intricate drums dance around your headphones nicely. It's almost impossible to disregard the bank of synths that fill up the stage when they play, but I've always felt Woodhands was a band that played electro jams, not just another electro act rehashing the overused sounds and repetitive beats. If Remorsecapade can change my mind, I'm sure it can change yours too.

Update - how about a Woodhands vs Pitchfork unreleased track? Ok! Download P'iss right here, right now.

MP3:: Woodhands - Pockets

MP3:: Woodhands - Dancer ft. Maylee Todd
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/woodhands
BUY:: http://www.paperbagrecords.com

Labels: , , , ,

Posted at 7:21 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reviews:: Basia Bulat Heart of My Own

When Basia Bulat stumbled onto the scene a few years back, you couldn't help but fall in love her. Oh My Darling was the type of record you felt lucky to hear and instantly, Basia became one of the artists you wanted to do well. You wanted everyone to hear her sing, soak in her surprising confidence that balanced her quiet persona and ability to make you feel as she delivered her most tender of moments.

Thankfully, Oh My Darling got heard - and nominated for the Polaris - and that success has given Basia the time to grow as an artist and deliver a sophomore LP that exceeds even her amazing potential. Looking back, much like Zach from Rogue Wave, when you listen to her debut album you sometimes get the feel that even the biggest arrangements she put together grew from the most humble of beginnings; visions in her head that a studio band could play with if ever given the chance.

As Heart of My Own explodes out of the gate with the surging power of Go On, you see that Basia and her band are now a single, cohesive entity. The clacking rim shots, marching drum snare and deep hollow bass drum build a tension behind her voice that flows perfectly into collage of strings. It's not often you think of a folk artist that hooks you with an opening track, unless it's one of those 8-minute epic tales that details the human condition, but Basia manages to show she's still as talented as we remember, but she's stronger, more experienced and more willing to push her boundaries. Run is another perfect representation of her new sound. In theory, the song could have fit nicely amongst the tracks from her last record, but every note, every harmony, every idea seems to move in perfect step. Subtle flourishes chime in and out without distracting you, as if the band is one step ahead of you, knowing what you want next before you do.

Heart of My Own was born on the road, but more importantly, even as it grew from Basia's soul, it could have grown for ours. She embraces the happiness we feel amongst our friends as we share drinks and laughs, but understands life is hard and being alone is something that not only happens, sometimes is needed. She invigorates the listen (and the listener) with at just the right times - the uptempo, horn filled romp If Only You, a track so infectious you can't do anything but listen intently wishing it would run for about five more minutes - but also lets you retreat with personal, moving songs like The Shore. She still presents tender thoughts - Sugar and Spice is beautiful and the playful notes of Sparrow just exude the playfulness she can deliver so effortlessly - but even the gentlest of songs have a density.

Too much importance is put on that dreaded second record, but not only has Basia cleared that hurdle with Edwin Moses like precision, she shows that she will be an artist judged by a catalog not a single record. She shows she can write songs that will stand the test of time (If It Rains), and start speaking for everyone not just the young Toronto-based singer. Even with how much I loved her first effort, I don't think even I expected her to reach that level so quickly.

Hali readers, don't forget Basia is going to be playing with Owen Pallett on Feb. 10th @ St. Matthew's Church. I can't think of a better venue to hear her belt out the spiritual Hush, so I'd move fast and get your tickets now.

MP3:: Basia Bulat - Gold Rush

MP3:: Basia Bulat - Go On
WEB:: http://www.basiabulat.com/
BUY:: http://secretcityrecords.com/

Labels: Basia Bulat, , , , , Secret City Records

Posted at 7:42 AM by ack :: 2 comments

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Reviews:: Kate Maki Two Song Wedding

There comes a time for most artists, at least those that venture out into the unforgiving world of touring, that inspiration for songs shifts from the sketches and emotions you hold close to fragments of diner conversations or late night, after show drunken exhaustion scratched on napkins and stuffed into your jacket pocket.

The excitement of playing shows is overpowered by a longing for home and missing people you had only the most banal and casual of interactions slowly starts to consume your every thought. Thankfully, for the artist's that continue to grow, that odyssey last only as long as the dreaded second album and doesn't become Homer-esque.

That's why when Kate Maki repeats "home sweet home" on her new album - Two Song Wedding - you never get the feeling she is longing for the comforts of her own bed, more that she is completely content to spend her nights writing songs and playing music in those friendly confines. The difference may seem subtle (or even insignificant), but that little distinction allows Kate to supplement her songs with the efforts of tons of talented musicians - Howe Gelb, Nathan Lawr, Nick Luca, Thoger
Lund, Tommy Larkin Dale Murray, Jeremy Gara
to name just a few - without losing focus or ever offering tracks that sound muddled. Remarkably, these songs were written alone, and must of the musicians had never heard the songs (although several had collaborated with Maki on her last record) before they started practicing for the recording, but instead of a gloomy, personal journey, Maki's emotions can be shared by almost any one that listens.

On the slow burning opener, Bloodshot & Blistered, Maki tries to process exhaustion and sadness, but instead of alienating us, the harmonies and traded vocals, piano, banjo and drums, Maki somehow transforms the song so we never get dragged down by the loneliness. The summery, sun-kissed melody that follows (In Comes the Light) or the rollicking, fuzzed our density of Message Delivered (how great is the horn that shows up out of nowhere?) are invitations to listen, and make dusty trail numbers like the From Below hit with a much harder impact.

Maki changes pace extremely well on Two Song Wedding, and even when she is at her most sombre - like the dreary Carved in Sand - she balances the melancholic with interesting strings, blasts of electric or an unexpected texture. Ripped Out of the Moon starts as a grim, dark tale, but slowly and confidently Maki and the band add a surprising build that energizes the song and gives the record another layer.

The success of this record is simple. Maki was able to write a collection of songs that probably shouldn't fit together as well as they do - the gentle picking of Upon a Time should stand out and disrupt the record, but it doesn't - and never loose steam. Maki's decision to reveal the emotion and ideas she has when she sits at home alone expands her sound and provides the freedom for a table of talented guests to experiment with her and offer their own emotion to the process. The end result is personal and intimate, but at the same time accessible and spontaneous. The 41-minute run-time feels more like 25 and you eagerly let the record loop over and start again; which is a wedding gift most song writers would love to receive.

MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/katemaki
WEB:: http://katemaki.com

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

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Reviews:: Scott MacLeod Old Soul

A few months ago, Craig over @ songsillinois.net started a 'finger pointing, pass the buck session' amongst a few Canadian bloggers that enjoy the roots music. "Sure, I might have missed out on Cam Penner, but so did X, Y and Z! And they live closer to him!"

Since that time, it's been nice to see Cam's record - Trouble & Mercy (review) - show up on some best of lists and really shine a light on the amazing Alberta roots/country scene, but more importantly it's made me recalibrate my daily searches to include significantly more Albertans. Specifically - fearing another scolding - whenever I get a request from Calgary, I scan the details like an old fashioned detective, complete with magnifying glass, pipe and oddly constructed hat.

The latest artist to cross my path is PEI transplant and Calgary resident, Scott MacLeod. A seasoned story teller and song writer, Old Soul may only be Scott's second full length, but it takes on the aura of a veteran musician that is completely comfortable with his style and sound, and plays music with his friends because it's all he's ever wanted. MacLeod is lucky enough to have some extremely talented friends - Lorrie Matheson produced and played on the record, as did Cam Penner and Brooke Wylie (and many others) - but he manages to fuse the unique collection of voices and textures into a seamless tapestry without losing control of the songs.

Old Soul, like the title indicates, takes the listener back to simpler times. Whether it's the vivid image we all have of coal mines, the romantic feel of watching the world fly by your window on a long train trip or painful memories his family past down of the 1940's flood, MacLeod's voice is like an aural time machine. Remarkably though, he doesn't let the burden of nostalgia drag down the listener, often adding bursts of electric (Grain Elevators, Standing Still), group sing-alongs (on the terrific Drank the Ocean Dry and the fun closer Day by Day), beautiful harmonies or effortless shifts from full band arrangements to more stripped down confessionals.

MacLeod is never going to be a name that dominates the blog world - right now there is exactly 0 posts on hypem.com with featuring his music - or find a home among the blindly loyal country fans that simply want to sing along to country pop anthems, but he's a roots artist that will still be writing songs long after the popular sound stops including lap steel. Gritty songs like Let You Down fit nicely alongside more traditional numbers and show that MacLeod can write albums that fit your mood, whether it's simply for a casual listen, a tear-in-your -beer evening after love runs you over once again or when you and your friends just want to hoist some drinks and laugh.

MP3:: Scott MacLeod - Drank the Ocean Dry
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/scottmacleod
WEB:: http://www.scottmacleod.ca/

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Posted at 7:16 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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