Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More free music from Chad VanGaalen

I think Chad might just be taunting us now. Only four days before the deliberations for the @PolarisPrize start and he drops a free EP of B-sides that not only show a complete different side to his work, but how quality Soft Airplane must be if some of these tracks are the ones left on the cutting room floor.

Obviously, you can’t call this collection CVG unplugged, but maybe it can be called unkept. He steps away from the pain staking process of layering and looping textures and delivers more straight ahead – again relatively – organic electro tracks. Even more shocking, if the opening few tracks indicate his mood, it appears CVG is also having a lot of fun. Clean beats and standard acoustic chords really come to life thanks to his skilled hands. The double vocals and peppy pop feel that kicks off the collection (Stuffed Animal) is one of the lightest tracks I can ever remember hearing from the Calgarian and his handles it with aplomb. The childlike sounds that form the core of Are You Sleeping? work well against the fuzzy guitar and are refreshing.

Some of the tracks make you almost wish that Chad wasn’t such a meticulous tactician. He's able to do so much with simple electronics and traditional strums that you can’t help but wonder where this style could go. Honestly, when he strips it all back and lets loose, the songs become undeniable. Microscopic World starts with a muddled electro loop and Velvet Underground-like simplicity and diction, but when he throws in the shit hot harmonica and tambourine and gives us a (albeit brief ) organic jam session he seals the deal.

Even more to the point are the tried and true sounding singer/songwriter feel of Did You Find Peace?; a song that softens all of VanGaalen’s questions about the insanity of life and fits perfectly with his thoughts on we are destroying the world or the organic orchestral feel of Soak in Visions. I'm not sure these would have fit into Soft Airplane, especially not after the number of listens I gave it, but they show that CVG has an almost unlimited range when it comes to creating music and the vibe that fits his subject matter.

Here's a couple tracks to sample - including a fantastic xylophone heavy number featuring Julie Doiron and Fred Squire - but grab this free download quickfast. It's better than 95% of the crappy bro-fi, chill-wave nonsense you are being bombarded with these days anyway.

MP3:: Chad VanGaalen ft. Julie Doiron and Fred Squire - I Wish I Was a Dog

MP3:: Chad VanGaalen - Soak in Visions


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Posted at 8:15 AM by ack :: 2 comments

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Polaris Round Up:: Chad VanGaalen Soft Airplane

I had already started writing my recap of Chad VanGaalen’s incredible ’08 release, Soft Airplane, when I happened across another blogger’s well written take on the effort. Ironically, all the reasons he said he can’t form an emotional attachment to the songs CVG put together for this release are exactly why I found the record so powerful.
It’s akin to standing in a museum looking at what you’ve been told is a great and important piece of art. You’ve paid your admission, picked up the bulky head set to listen to the audio commentary, and wandered the galleries pondering the sights before you. You know its history, you know its pedigree, and you’ve spent an hour or more staring at the brushstrokes. So has the person standing next to you. You turn to them, and casually ask, “So what do you think of it?” Their reply: “Well, I think the frame is nice.
For me, when it comes to art the brilliance of the brushstrokes and the creativity is important. I mean, I have to like what is presented - I don't get that whole, "I don't like it but can appreciate it" mindset - but seeing people scatter paint on a canvas or draw an exact replica of a turtle they saw in an ad in a comic book has little to no appeal to me and the same holds true for music. I want to see or hear something beyond the limits of my own ability. There are elements of Chad’s music that are instantly accessible – the lo-fi recording techniques, the familiar Neil Young inspired vocal delivery – but it’s the unique sounds he creates and the warped perspective that are exciting. I know about boy meets girl (I even know about Boy Meets World) and getting run over by love, but when it comes to murder ballads, Viking funeral rituals and obsessing about death I’m admittedly pretty green.

Obviously, Chad’s deepest thoughts aren’t the same as mine, nor are his social fears – I don’t think I’d ever think a noise coming from next door would be my neighbour beating her dog in the basement or ever think about documenting rage like, “I’ll find you and I’ll kill you” – but for thirty or forty minutes it’s equally exciting as it is chilling to venture into his world knowing he’s spent hours thinking about such gruesome things.

I actually took a break from this record after playing it to death in ’08, but when I threw it on again last week it was like hearing it again for the first time. I heard new layers and loops – some of which I was more finally tuned to hear thanks to the Black Mold experiment – and found the melodies stronger. The amazing layering of his sonic collages hit harder and sounded cleaner and the beauty that surrounds the dark thoughts that plagues CVG make it one of the most compelling records on this ballot.

The funniest thing about this whole process is that people are left calling a record about death, murder and loneliness filled with blips, beeps, insane instrumentation and warbled vocals the SAFE choice. I have no problem letting people know that it’s either CVG or Joel leading the race for my vote right now and if this choice is predictable, well the Polaris Prize is doing something right.

MP3:: Chad VanGaalen - City of Electric Light

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Posted at 1:07 PM by ack :: 1 comments

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Quick Hitters:: Speech Debelle

With the Ack and I getting psyched up for our trip to Toronto this weekend for this year's Polaris Prize gala/hootenanny (Ack as juror, myself as his weed carrier/one man entourage), it only seemed right to send some cyber big-ups to the winner of the Mercury Prize, the UK equiv of the Polaris, Speech Debelle.

Now I'm far from the most qualified to comment on this, as I heard almost none of the albums nominated, but I always enjoy when an album like this wins an award like this. Mainly because it always sends the rap haters into a tizzy, but too often hip hop gets overlooked when matched up with white people mainstream music. I've only given the album a listen this morning for the first time, but it's full of honest, introspective lyrics delivered over interesting, jazzy production that mixes in some classic UK hip-hop sounds (garage/grime or whatever the current movement is called). Again, I'm certainly no expert on the UK music scene (and for that matter, outside of Edmonton rap, not on the Canadian scene either), but I do like this.

Now the Mercury has been around longer than the Polaris, so this gives me hope that at some point a hip hop album will win the Polaris (K'NAAN's album is solid, but I don't see him winning this year). I do think it's funny that one of the main complaint streams in the pre-Polaris chatter we've heard is how very white and male the past winners (and a bunch of this year's nominees) are. Well a black female rapper won the Mercury, and what kind of tweet-age did I see from the Canadian music types after it was announced? A resounding round of "Who?" and "I thought x or y should have won!". There's a lesson in that, and the lesson is that 50% of the merds will be unhappy no matter what you do. Something to think about, oh, and congrats to Speech Debelle.

MP3:: Speech Debelle - Better Days revox f. Wiley

MP3:: Pete Lawrie & Speech Debelle - (Black And Blue) That's How I Feel About You

VIDEO:: Speech Debelle - The Key

VIDEO:: Speech Debelle - The Key

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Posted at 12:27 PM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Polaris Round Up:: Metric Fantasies

I’ll be honest. Over the years my relationship with Metric has been akin to the dorky kid in the chem lab constantly hating on the prom queen or star quarterback in all those 80’s movies. Somehow, the fact they are popular meant that supporting them would be like giving up who we are, and the false comfort that in 15 years no one would remember their name but we'd be rich and famous.

I know that makes no sense, but it just kind of happened. Obviously, Herohill caters to a small but loyal audience, one that Metric would never benefit from or need to acknowledge. It might seem like jealousy, but really it’s just reality. Although our traffic wouldn’t cause some of the bigger blogs to bat an eye, we pride ourselves on being a stepping stone that a band can use to jump starts a career; not soaring success stories obviously, but enough to help a band books shows and tour outside of their city walls. So when someone started sending us Metric's discs, the songs were just something I never bothered with. When you open for some of the biggest bands in the world, I don’t think you are worried about opening for Windom Earle at Gus’ Fest ’09.

The saddest thing about my attitude is there are countless “indie” fans doing the exact same thing and its left Metric floating in limbo. They are too famous for any indie cred or blog love and far too indie for mainstream. Sure, they are doing great – I don’t think too many of the other acts are leaving the Polaris Gala and heading to Australia for a tour - but don’t get it twisted. Metric isn’t selling out stadiums, traveling with video screens and certainly isn’t one of the bands people point to when the discussion of the best known Canadian band comes up. People have a false conception of their status, which is why I think Fantasies is the perfect title for their release. Everyone seems to have an opinion about the band’s life and wealth, and that deflating that fantasy really dominates some of Haines’ best penned tracks on the record.

It’s become human nature hate anyone or anything popular and try to derail anyone with ambition enough to make it big. I’m not sure Metric has changed who they are that much from when they first started out and people loved them, they’ve just got much better at what they do best and play to a more appreciative audience. Metric isn’t ashamed to write singles, something the indie-est of indie rockers might ridicule but secretly wish they could pen a track that got them National exposure. I know you might tell people Lonesome Crowded West is Modest Mouse's crowning achievement, but hot damn, deep down you know Float On is the jam, or maybe it's OK Computer you gush about, but a few drinks and acoustic guitars later, it's High or Dry that people want to hear.

That is why Fantasies is a better record than most give it credit for. Forget words like safe or radio friendly, the band offers up hook after hook, refusing to take their foot off the gas. Just because the electronic-critical world wants to stumble on new discoveries and prove that they (we, whatever) all know more than you, find me another record that knocks 10 tracks out of the park as far as Fantasies does. Honestly, as far as singles go, these are home runs on a Pedro Cerrano level. On the single, Gimme Sympathy, Haines hints to the descent of Icarus and the danger of flying too high, too close to the sun only this time the danger is alienating the fan base that holds onto their name like a possession. More importantly, she reminds you that all rockers start out dreaming about being as big as The Beatles, The Stones, Nirvana or The Clash. Most bands are forced to give up on the idea when they realize they can't write songs that people want to hear over and over again.

So, where does this one stand? Honestly, I can’t see people given the honor of voting for this independent award - one that prides itself on being based strictly on artistic merit, regardless of genre or sales- giving it to the one band that probably doesn’t need the support but that’s not to say they shouldn’t. Fantasies is not my favorite, not even in my Top 3 but months ago I wouldn’t have included it at all, but now I find myself listening to the record in the car or mindlessly at my desk. That escapeability is sometimes exactly what you need from music, and something that Metric does better than almost anyone. Forget the freedom to dream we all lose as we grow up, Metric gives us the gift of letting us forget the pains and reality we often get saddled with and deal with for the majority of our lives.

MP3:: Metric - Gimme Sympathy

MP3:: Metric - Don't Think Twice, It's Alright (acoustic)


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Posted at 2:21 PM by ack :: 3 comments

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Polaris Round Up:: Joel Plaskett Three

Honestly, there isn't anything else we can say about Joel, Three or his inclusion in the Short List. We've talked about him for years and watched him grow as an artist. As native Nova Scotians, we are proud of his music, proud of him and certainly proud to know him.

But here's the thing... people that dismiss his talent as boring East Coast rock are completely wrong when it comes to Three. His improv fusion of country, rock, folk, fiddle and FUN is much more wide reaching. He doesn't speak for bluenosers, or even just Canadians. Joel's songs speak to everyone. With the horns and backing vocals that pepper his whimsical words on Disc I, Plaskett takes a step into Jim Ford territory, which is not a name I toss around lightly.

He also delivers three different styles of music that kill with with homesickness, longing, love, growing up. I know those topics might not be as note-worthy as religion, politics or the economy but if you ask most young music fans, those issues are a lot more real and a lot more powerful.

He pushed his sound and pushed his limits creating this 27-song opus and whether or not you think it's the record of the year, I guarantee some of the tracks that make an appearance on Disc III will be songs you still hear people playing 20 years from now. Three is a classic - in appearance, scope, vision and song. How do I think he'll do? Well, all things being equal I'd like to see him in the Final Three pushing to win. I don't know if the East Coast bias will hurt him though. With all the people nominated for creating the same type of record, his shift should be recognized and rewarded.

MP3:: Joel Plaskett - You Let Me Down

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Posted at 11:40 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Polaris Round Up:: Fucked Up The Chemistry of Common Life

I probably wasn’t the only one to give a half-hearted “meh” when they announced the Polaris Short-list and Fucked Up was included. I know tons of pundits were heaping praise on the TO hardcore outfit, but to me it seemed like a great way to stick another band with fuck in the name dead into Stephen Harper's gullet (and pump the scene in our nation's largest city). I had only heard a few songs, none of which really moved me much on a casual listen and none that made me want to dig deeper.

I spent years listening to punk rock, and after seeing acts like Sick of It All destroy clubs and release records that sounded the same year after year, I kind of realized there wasn’t going to be anything that really split my wig when it came to hardcore anymore. Angst and anger had long given way to more palatable music, more chords and to be honest, The Chemistry of Common Life isn’t even the best hardcore record I heard this year (that honor falls to Bison BC hands down).

But god damn, after spending more time with the record, it’s easily the most ambitious and probably the most rewarding. First off, the sound FU creates is perfect. Without losing any of the integrity and power - dudes can shred and the songs are as dense store bought fruitcake - the TO band took the time to meticulously overdub and layer track after track and even as the riffs crash into you like a chaotic surf, the guitar work shimmers and soars. Even more impressive is the precious – yes, you read that right – moments that appear out of nowhere and completely floor you.

Forget about the flute solo that starts the album. Sure it’s an off the wall way to begin a hardcore record and catches you off guard, but the way the band fuses in bongos, guest vocalists, styles and hope into their surging riffs is what makes this record special. The bongos that fill out Magic Word fit perfectly but after a 90 second flute intro it becomes obvious the the band is pushing the listener. Some might fault it, but I think it’s one of the most powerful tracks on the album and that little nuance helps the listener get ready for the most shocking track on the record.

The instrumental, keyboard heavy slow burner Golden Seal is a wash of textures and distortion but the band refuses to peak the energy, moving patiently across the 3 and half minutes, building the tension until you are pleading for an explosion of drums and guitars. It’s spacey, trippy and psychedelic and really personifies the experience of the book that shares the titles with this record, but even more important is that Fucked Up shows they are more than a few simple chords and intense vocals from the gut.

After the diverse and unexpected beginning to this record, Fucked Up pretty well has carte blanche to head in whatever direction they want. Whether it’s huge and heavy (Days of Last or the Dallas Green assisted Black Albino Blues) or powerful but surprisingly melodic (Crooked Head), they keep you listening and keep your arms swinging. When Vivian Girls offer up on the infectious No Epiphany the results blow you away, but when Katie Stelmanis softens Pink Eyes growl on Royal Swan or Sebastien Grainger helps out on Twice Born, you get the perfect the palette cleanser needed to help you focus in on the terrific instrumentation the band delivers.

I don’t want to you to get this twisted. I don’t think this record is as good as many people claim it to be, but it’s much, much better than I gave it credit for originally. Unlike many records that try to be smart and say something worth hearing, The Chemistry of Common Life actually achieves makes you think about some deep shit – life, death faith - by asking questions for which there usually aren’t any answer, and for that credit is due.

MP3:: Fucked up - Crooked Head

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Posted at 9:32 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Polaris Round Up:: K'Naan Troubadour

As part of the Polaris Grand Jury, I think it's important to revisit each of the ten records in the hunt with an open mind and no preconceived notions. Prior disappointment and praise have to be left at the door as I give each of the ten nominees deserve as much time as I can, especially when you consider how much 20Gs could mean to any of them.

So, without further ado... here's my thoughts on K'Naan and his latest release, Troubadour.

When I really listen to K’naan’s follow up to Polaris nominated, The Dusty Foot Philopsher the things that help the record stand out to a bigger crowd will probably also be the things that swing the final vote against him. First off, the staggering diversity makes it harder to throw Troubadour into a classic genre and therefore it's easier to just like a few tracks than it is to digest the full affair.

It also means it's harder for the young musician to keep you listening. People that love the hip hop heavy anthems probably won't embrace the more spiritual efforts that pepper the back half of the record. When you consider the praise the LP has received, it's obvious that the young man is talented and he's grown since his last effort. His visions are more mature (and less angry) than those on his debut and his flow is much more confident, but a few small flaws stick out like errant threads from a favorite sweater.

Right off the bat, politically charged subject matter and up-tempo beats make Troubadour an easy record to champion for white, “I don’t like hip hop but I like this” music fans. His fantastic back story and diverse message help make him a media darling and interesting conversation piece – one that works for people ages 18-80 (but like gym teachers our old grandpas ain't supposed to rap) - but when it comes to hip hop heads, I’m not sure the Somalian born spitter gets much love. He’s realer than almost any of the artists talking about money, violence and girls these days, he reps his hood to the fullest and refuses to back down from any challenger. He’s exactly what an emcee should be, but how many people can relate to what he has to say and how many people into hip hop want to hear him say it?

I know the audience that embraces him shouldn’t really impact how K’Naan’s efforts are judged, but sadly it does. The same way people look down their noses at the inclusion of Metric on the Polaris list, if too many “normal” people like something, critics become skeptical and start over analyzing the results. To his credit, K’Naan does his best to grab you as Troubadour explodes out of the starting block with T.I.A, the Chubb Rock rocker ABCs (video) and Dreamer. The songs sound great, captivate you, and make you move , but unlike Usain Bolt, K’Naan fails to lengthen his stride during the middle third of the record and lets the pack catch up.

I truly believe Troubadour could have been something magical. The live instrumentation and spirited, unique tracks could have exposed the world to something we only get to see in film, but it was severely bogged because of too many cooks in the kitchen. I’m 100% into K’Naan giving us a glimpse of the life he led and how it’s changed now that he got a little shine. I just wish we only heard his story. It's hard to overlook the big names he calls on for help, especially when they contribute to the albums downfall. Whether it's Adam Levine singing a hook, Mos Def lazing his way through a verse, Charlie 2Na delivering the same rap he always does or Metallica’s Kirk Hammett grinding one of the records most infectious flows to a halt with his guitar wanking rip rock, the onslaught of cameos gives part of the record the TV awards special feel of forced collaborations.

He’s an engaging story teller and considering he learned English late in life, he’s a gifted word poet (“leave you on your side like a Kangol hat”, “illuminated it like kitchen foil”), but when the biggest names in music jump on board it takes away from the impact and takes away from his struggle and success. As refreshing as it is to hear him say he is better off not buying a Kanye crafted beat to save cash to send home and that maybe the rap world is jealous, the fact his album is laced with names that travel in the same circles really makes you wonder.

By the time he spins back into the more African influenced tracks like the inspiring Wavin’ Flag, the ghetto love story Fatima or Fire In Freetown, the record has lost a bit of steam and that’s probably the saddest part. With so many prep school hipsters pilfering African rhythms and sounds these days, the fact he’s actually grown up on the spiritual music and seen the things he’s seen gives K'Naan the unique opportunity to give people a real look at the darkness and help us realize people get out and rise to the top. It might not seem like much, but knowing he's able to escape and just make music, hang out with his friends, rap to girls and love life is an amazing idea. And that's where K'Naan's future lies. I know he was influenced by Bob Marley on this effort and I really think moving forward he has the chance to speak to the masses. He doesn’t gloss over the hardships he’s seen, but throughout it all he gives us a sense of hope and home.

I just don’t think this record accomplishes all it could. Not because his story isn’t incredible or worth hearing, it’s just that you have to see the world through his eyes as well as people that don’t know any more about Somalia than you do. One reviewer remarked, “I wish I left Troubadour feeling like I knew more about Somalia than I did going in, and I'm not entirely sure that's the case” and while that's probably valid, I still think you get to see part of that world you never would without stories like K’Naan’s. I just wish I was given the chance to experience K’naan’s world without the glitz and glam of all the people wanting to be a part of it.

So bottom line, where do I think K'Naan is going to end up in the voting? I wouldn't be surprised if Troubadour makes the Top 5, but can't see it pulling out the final nod at the end of the day. I'm not sure how many jurors will champion his effort but that being said, he certainly shows why he is one of the most talented entertainers in Canada and deserves the inclusion on the Short List.

MP3:: K'Naan - ABCs (ft. Chubb Rock)

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

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Monday, June 15, 2009

herohill Polaris Long List - UPDATE (how'd we do)

Well, the Polaris web site proudly displays the Long-list nominees. So, how'd our Top 5 do you ask? Well, take a look and see.

Timber Timbre - Self-titled (review) || myspace

Prediction: Short List
I think the Arts & Crafts signing will help push this absolutely fantastic record into the Long List. For those that haven't heard it, you are missing out. Kirk revamped his sound, and as his show here in Halifax proved, he's charismatic enough to keep a room full of drunks pin-drop quiet.


Joel Plaskett - Three (review)|| web site

Prediction: Short List, possible Polaris winner
People have a love hate relationship with Halifax's favourite son, but even the people (well most of the people) that don't like Joel seem to be falling in line - and in love with - Three. Like Kirk, Joel reworked his sound but more importantly, if you listen to the third disc of the set, he's written some songs that people will listen to for years, not months. Album of the year? Maybe. The one record that will stand the test of time... 100% yes.


Japandroids - Post-Nothing (review) || myspace

Long List... maybe.
I really hope this pull through. The Vancouver band slugged it out for years and delivered an album that even their biggest fan would have been shocked by. The way the look back to adolescence without glamorizing the nights of drinking and trying to hook up is terrific. The blasts of guitar fuzz and drums... even better.


Elliott Brood - Meadow Mountain (review) || web site
Prediction: Long List.
For most of the year, I could have happily voted this number 1. I listened to the record nonstop and am surprised it slipped to 4.
Ramshackle percussion, surging energy and mountain fury. It's also the first record they've made that replicates their amazing live shows and still demands multiple repeats when you listen at home.


$100 - Forest of Tears (review)
|| web

Outside chance at Long List.
In the last month or so, a lot of people have been getting on board with this record and really... thank god. It's dark, pure country but they never sound dated thanks to current subject matter and experimentation. Simone's voice cuts you to the bone and her narratives could make a cheerleader frown.


Five others we wished we could have voted for

Honestly, I hope all of these at least make the long list. In fact, the only reason that CVG is down here and not up there is that I'm so sure he will make the final cut. These 5 records occupied a lot of my listening time, even fone like Think About Life that just came out. So, without further ado.

D-sisive - Let the Children Die (review) || myspace
Just miss the Long List
"Look.. I like other types of music. I have a rap friend!" I know that may seem like a slap in the face of D-Sisive, especially with how good this record is, but I sense a lot of people that don't like rap are ok with this record. In my humble, with all the hip hop Shane has offered up for readers, D-Sisive topped the list, followed closely by Dragon Fli Empire.


Portico - First Neighbours
(review) || MP3 || myspace
Will not make the Long List.
I really, really, really, really love this record, but if you scan the ole information superhighway, I might be alone in my quest to bring the band some attention. I'm not sure why - the trio packs a punch and the songs are a virtual tour through our nation's history... well that and songs about fucking. What else do you want people????


Think About Life - Family
(review) || myspace

Prediction: Just miss the Long List.
Think About Life made me want to dance, something I never do - I'm kind of like Brandon Walsh in that regard. Cesar and GVP play off each other perfectly and move in and around Matt's beats. It's dance music for young and old, and to quote Paul Watson, the band makes him want to, "buy a car so I can be that douche-bag blaring his tunes at stop lights and gas stations."


Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane
(review) || myspace

Prediction: Short List - possible winner.
This was my favorite record of 2008, and honestly it should be in the Top 5 but I know it will pull through and wanted to give a few other bands a chance to get some attention. I have no problem marking this down on my Short-List if (or when) my Top 5 don't all pull through.


Sunparlour Players - Wave North (review) || myspace

Prediction: Will not make the Long List.
Too little too late for this one I think. It shows huge improvements and is much more mature than their last record. They are writing songs now, not just riffs and emotions. It seems to be hovering under the radar, which is surprising, but I for one really enjoy the release. By a nice surprise to see others agree with me.


MP3:: Timber Timbre - Lay Down in the Tall Grass

MP3:: Joel Plaskett - Through & Through & Through

MP3:: Japandroids - Young Hearts Spark Fire

MP3:: Elliott Brood - Write It All Down For You

MP3:: $100 - No Great Leap
Learn more about the Polaris::

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Posted at 12:00 PM by ack :: 4 comments

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Polaris Prize:: Round 1 - update

Too many records. I'll use that as my excuse, but I completely forgot about The Deep Dark Woods and their terrific record, Winter Hours (review). As far as roots music goes, these guys set the bar here in Canada, and All the Money I Had is Gone is probably battling with Robots for the title of my favorite song this year. All in all, a very worthy addition to my official ballot.

And because I felt bad about this glaring omission - which has been changed on my ballot for the record - I've also thrown in a terrific live take of River in the Pines. So pencil this into my number four slot and hopefully a few jurors are more diligent than I am and remembered this talented SK band.

MP3:: The Deep Dark Woods - All The Money I Had is Gone

MP3:: The Deep Dark Woods - River in the Pines (lives on XM Radio)

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Posted at 7:32 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reviews:: $100 Forest of Tears

web site

I’m not sure why more people aren’t smitten with the grim tales $100 writes. Honestly, if you sit down and soak in Simone Schmidt's gruff voice and embrace her penchant for narratives full of pain and suffering that are balanced by Ian Russell’s comfortable country arrangements, I find it baffling you could ignore Forest of Tears.

One listen to Stew Crookes’ pedal steel and the beautiful melancholy of Nothing's Alright will warm the heart of any true country fan and the slow meandering sounds of Paris is Burning shows how effortlessly the band can pen a heartbreaking ballad, but $100 is far from a one-note effort.

The powerful debut is a terrific example of a country band willing to fill their songs with the grit and grime of Toronto and emotions and scenarios unfamiliar to most country track protagonists. Thanks to a guiding hand from noise aficionado Rick White, the live on the floor recordings transform Schmidt’s twang into something more adventurous. Whether it’s the drone that dominates Tirade of a Shitty Mom or the chaos that slowly takes over the title track, the recording is infused with an energy you don’t find in country efforts. Instead of stomping a foot through the floor, you find your self soaking in the hazy psychedelics and straining to hear every note trapped in cloud.

But to be honest, it’s when the band sneaks in the heartache and pain of today’s world into the most classic sounds that the effort really sizzles. Opening with the powerful Careless Love, Schmidt transports you inside the mind of a women bored by her lover, his futile touch and wandering eye, but the words are cradled by a fairly traditional arrangement.

No Great Leap
is a traditional tear-in-your-beer track that could have been written twenty years ago. Schmidt’s voice draws you in and the bended notes provide the support usually left for bar stools and supportive sentiments from the man serving the drinks, but when you really listen you get hit with a more tangible impact. The depressing recant of a women traveling the same subway line, year after year, fighting the depression and urge to jump (No Great Leap), and proves that even when the band pays tribute to classic sounds, they are never indebted to them.

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Posted at 10:27 AM by ack :: 5 comments

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Polaris Prize:: Round 1

With the first cut-off date for Polaris Long-List nominations approaching, and this being our first time being involved, I thought it would be a lot easier to jot down thoughts and ideas before the deadline, instead of just scanning the list and writing down 5 records on due date. Obviously, we've covered a ton of Canadian releases this year - one or two a day, 5 days a week - but we've missed some quality ones as well.

I haven't decided my Top 5 or the order they fall in but right now these are the nine records leading the herohill Polaris charge (with a few fighting to grab that 10th spot):

Elliott Brood - Meadow Mountain (review) || MP3 || web site

What we said: "And that's probably the thing that grabs me on Mountain Meadow. Despite their previous critical successes (their debut LP - Ambassador - was nominated for a Juno), Elliott Brood is often described as a terrific live band that falls short on record. While I've never agreed with these sentiments, the trio has worked hard to make a record that has the spirit and swagger of a live show, but still allow for repeatable listens. Write it all Down For and Chuckwagon are sweaty stomps track that will fuel sets for years to come, but the band has learned how to transform energetic tracks destined for the stage into songs that reward the headphone listener as well."

For our Halifax readers, Elliott Brood is playing the new Paragon on Friday. Be there.

Joel Plaskett - Three (Review)|| MP3 || web site

What we said: "It’s not surprising that Joel seems to focus on "leaving" for the majority of the first record. He’s reached the point where his life – well, as best as it can when he has to constantly hit the road – is settled here in Nova Scotia, but he’s also reached the age where you can’t help but wonder why worked out the way it did. When you call a different city home for half the year, constantly see your friends leaving and have to say goodbye before piling into the van night after night, you can’t help but feel the grind, miss the smells of home or wonder why you still spend so many hours watching the odometer turn."

Timber Timbre - Self-titled
(review) || MP3 || myspace

What we said: "So, to be honest, the change in sound he delivers on the new self-titled release was quite unexpected. Kirk still has the charisma to tell a compelling stories using little more than the muted, steady strums of his guitar, but the textures he adds accentuate the ominous tones of the record and really complete his songs. Organ, piano, percussion and beautiful string arrangements all add a density to Kirk’s compositions and fill some of the space once reserved for echoes and creaks."

VanGaalen - The Soft Airplane (review) || MP3:: City of Electric Light

What we said: "He's obviously a unique man with social anxiety and an unquenchable thirst for creative expression and as a result Soft Airplane is incredibly spontaneous and challenging, but at the same time multiple listens show how well the record is thought out. Sound effects, textures and emotion are nestled into the folds and corners, and until you can listen to the complete song, you aren't really hearing Chad's visions."

This was also voted my favorite album of 2008....

Japandroids - Post-Nothing (review) || MP3 || myspace

What we said: "The band is a simple combination of huge drums, guitar and the sing/shouts of Brian King and David Prowse, but the end result is much, much more. The nine song album delivers anthem after anthem, with distorted guitar and crashing cymbals personify the rage of youth, but the melodies the guys deliver really show the emotion and reality we all face when it's time to grow up."

For those unlucky enough to not hear this record, let me just say the songs create the most melodic drone you will find, and this two-piece from Vancouver sounds huge as they manage to perfectly convey the emotions of growing up even when you don't want to, without seeming pathetic nostalgic.

D-sisive - The Book (review) || MP3 (not from The Book) || myspace

What we said
: "Moving on, the hypnotic drums and keys of Kneecaps make up one of my favorite beats on the album, and D's mixing of his love for hip hop with the story of losing his parents is pretty captivating. Solid song all around. Church organ provides the backdrop for Laundry Room, likely one of the most depressing hip hop song you'll ever hear. Well I should clarify that, as the most intentionally depressing hip hop song, as anything currently in the top 10 from people like Young Jeezy or Plies will likely depress you for a different reason."

Admittedly, I would have never heard this record if Shane hadn't given it the huge Thumbs Up - coveted number 1 spot on his Canadian MC list - but the book is a fantastic LP. It's concise, powerful and he manages to hit with real emotion without seeming like he's crying or whining.

Portico - First Neighbours
(review) || MP3 || myspace

What we said: "On first pass, there are so many things that stand out on First Neighbours; the way they balance heavy, distorted guitar with a surprisingly soft touch, melodies that bob along like the little white ball over top of the words on a karaoke machine, the classic “indie – when indie still meant something” rock feel of songs that talk about nothing more than love, awkward silences and f*cking and the way they can transform an instrument like a simple horn into a completely new sound, but it’s when you really dive in that the greatness of this record stand to surface."

Women - Self-titled (review) || MP3 || myspace

What we said: "The self-titled debut is only 29 minutes, and really is more a collection of truncated ideas surrounding five more structured tracks, but live the songs, much like the plethora of equipment the band uses, mesh together into a surging, morphing mass. The set was energy filled, driven by Matt's thick bass lines but it was fueled by front man Pat's spastic guitar and yelps, and Mike's crashing percussion. They were able to balance the experimental noise with tight interaction and sounds that made heads bob."

$100 - Forest of Tears.
Review and info coming tomorrow. Let me just say, I'm smitten with this release, and been listening non-stop the last week or so.

Labels: Best-of '08, , , ,

Posted at 10:09 AM by ack :: 6 comments

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