Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Long and the Short of It... Part 2

Well it's officially Christmas as I write this. The "Eve" has come to an end and while the other Elves are taking a much-deserved rest after building all those toys, I thought I'd get cracking on the second batch of selections from my longlist. Without further ado (and a Merry Christmas to you)...

Lightspeed Champion - Falling Off The Lavender Bridge (Domino)
I actually reviewed this for The Manitoban way back in January. Here's what I had to say about it:

This one took me completely by surprise. Dev Hynes – the mind behind Lightspeed Champion – is best known for his work with the short-lived but very loud Test Icicles. No one but Hynes could have known that after his noise-rock past, the present would find this British native recording in Omaha, Nebraska with Saddle Creek producer Mike Mogis, exploring roots-tinged indie-pop under the Lightspeed Champion moniker.
It's also a thoroughly pleasant surprise, as Falling Off The Lavender Bridge is one of the best releases of this new year (that may not sound like great praise but let us consider that 2008 has already seen new releases from The Mountain Goats, Cat Power, Black Mountain and The Magnetic Fields – heady company for Hynes).
"Galaxy of the Lost" was released as part of a promotional EP last November and it still stands up as one of the strongest tracks on the album, but the quality of Falling Off… is uniformly high and so "Galaxy" flows beautifully into "Tell Me What It's Worth," and the gorgeously orchestrated "All To Shit." That brief ditty segues to "Midnight Surprise" which is wonderfully layered by Mogis to provide a rich atmosphere for Hynes' warm tenor. If you aren't won over by the time this nearly ten-minute-long epic is over you're unlikely to ever fall for Falling Off… but really, that's the least of your problems.

Here's the video to "Galaxy Of The Lost"

British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music? (Rough Trade)
Another one from early in the year that stood the test of time. I'm not sure if the question is meant rhetorically but my answer is a resounding 'yes.' Especially when we're talking about the rock music produced by this group of talented Brits. While Do You Like Rock Music? doesn't quite clear the bar BSP set with their amazing debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, it's the third strong release from a group who turn their amps to 11 and wring every last reverbed note out of their guitars.

Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride (4AD)
UMFM Station Manager Jared McKetiak and I were discussing artists we would potentially hold a spot open for in our Year End lists if we knew they were releasing a record - John Darnielle is one such person for me. I don't think I've heard a Mountain Goats record I haven't enjoyed and they're the type of records that reward repeat listens. Darnielle is a hyper-literate songwriter capable of writing from his own experiences but equally adept at creating rich vignettes of the lives of others. From opener "Sax Rohmer, Pt. 1" about the writer behind the Fu Manchu series, on through a baker's dozen worth of songs, Darnielle adds to his burgeoning body of amazing work.

Luke Doucet & the White Falcon - Blood's Too Rich (Six Shooter Records)
I had the good fortune of seeing Doucet open for Blue Rodeo when he came through town a while back and if you happen to live in one of the cities he's touring through in the early months of 2009 - GO SEE HIM. He'll be touring on the strength of Blood's Too Rich and given the headlining spot the opportunity to hear more of this great record is well worth the price of admission. Here's what I had to say about the album when I reviewed it for Stylus back in the spring:

Doucet's not-so-secret weapon has always been his guitar work on the handful of albums he's released under his own name (and before that with Veal). On his latest, Doucet's guitar work is its strongest yet and the ringing tones he coaxes out of his instrument are richer than the blood of the title. That wonderful guitar is accompanied by 'the White Falcon' – a great backing band that includes Rich Levesque on bass, Paul Brennan on drums and Doucet's wife, Melissa McClelland on backing vocals. Blood's Too Richis the first album credited not just to Doucet and it's fitting as the band creates a rich backing for their leader's songs.
Whether he's singing about driving a rig, a man in Cleveland with a girl in the clink or faux-autobiographical tales of barroom reminiscence and living beyond his means, the White Falcon accompany Doucet with a gritty undertone to their playing that helps dirty up his vocals a little. Thank goodness, because as roots/country as the music is, Doucet's voice (like Jim Cuddy's, who guests on the title track and "The Commandante") is almost too gentle to sell these tales convincingly without it.
It might not be gritty, but it turns out Doucet's voice perfectly suited to covering Robert Smith and The Cure's "Love Cats." On paper it seems like a wacky choice, but Doucet nails it and tweaks things just enough to make it his own and not mere mimicry – plus there's that guitar of his again, shimmering and commanding the listeners' attention.

Here's Blue Rodeo backing Doucet on the album's title track:

Hayden - In Field & Town (Hardwood Records)
True story - back in the day when I was working at Record Baron in Brandon (it might have been Music Baron at the time; I can't remember when we made the switch), I was playing Hayden's The Closer I Get and some middle-aged dude (who, in my mind's eye, has a mullet but who probably didn't - this is isn't that long ago) shouts out "Boy this music sure makes you want to kill yourself!"
Backed by the members of Cuff The Duke, Hayden sounds a little cheerier on In Field & Town than he has in the past and the instrumentation is a little more muscular, but his delicate voice is still front-and-centre, delivering equally delicate lyrics. There's a populist poetry to what Hayden writes about - he's never overly flowery or ornate, but he conveys the everyday and universal in an artful manner.

Here's Hayden live in Vancouver, backed by Cuff The Duke:

Quantic presenta Flowering Inferno - Death Of The Revolution (Tru Thoughts)
For quite some time I've been referring to the album as Flowering Inferno but it turns out that's the name of yet another project for Will Holland (a/k/a Quantic). Not like the dude needs another project - between the output recorded under the Quantic moniker, his live group the Quantic Soul Orchestra, The Limp Twins, his remix work, DJ'ing, and curating some incredible comps, it's a wonder the dude has time to scour places like Latin America and the Caribbean for new sounds. But he does and he did - on Death Of The Revolution, Holland mixes dub, reggae and tropicalia to whip up a concoction that is incredibly catchy and indescribably deep. You could get lost in these grooves and hearing them just once, you'll want to.

Check out the awesome title track and see for yourself:

Forest City Lovers - Haunting Moon Sinking (Out Of This Spark)
Toronto indie label Out Of This Spark really caught my attention this year and from my first hearing of the new Timber Timbre, it will be keeping my attention in '09. While another OOTS artist cracked my Top 20, Forest City Lovers still represented well. They played a great in-store at Music Trader and Haunting Moon Sinking is a fully-realized and well-arranged record. (As an aside: are in-stores popular where you live? My experience with them is generally that about a half-dozen to maybe ten people are actually there to see the band, while a couple people mill about looking at the records and trying to ignore the performance). Kat Burns has a wispy but forceful voice that steers the musical ship for Forest City Lovers and you can't help but listen to her when she sings. But to my ears, the secret weapon FCL possess is Mika Posen's gorgeous violin. The string arrangements augment the impact of the songs on Haunting Moon Sinking as you can hear on "Pirates (Can't All Sail The Indian Ocean)" here:

Giant Sand - proVISIONS (Yep Roc)
Four years since Is All Over The Map and Howe Gelb has found a new (and highly suitable home) at Yep Roc. Here's what I had to say in Stylus:

How does Howe do it? Despite what he himself refers to as "attempted singing" in the liner notes, the gravel-voiced Gelb produces affecting and strangely beautiful music. It doesn't hurt that he has assembled a capable but un-showy band in Giant Sand, nor that he has surrounded himself with the likes of Isobel Campbell, Neko Case and M. Ward – but only Howe Gelb could deliver lines like "they talk like a filibuster / their words surrounding me / like I was Custer" in a deadpan atop Anders Pedersons haunting slide guitar on "Without A Word" and completely sell it. The man knows his strengths and writes for them (or at least his weaknesses and compensates for them).
Recorded partly in Denmark, Tucson and at the Woodshed Studios in Toronto, proVISIONS maintains a coherent sound and feel despite the changes of locale and credit for this is due to Gelb and his co-producer Kent Olsen – this collection of a baker's dozen worth of songs all have a little dust in their corners as they echo off into the desert sky night.
Of the album's title, Gelb says: "what we need in this day and age… folks with vision… positive vision." But a thorough scan of the lyrics find him painting fairly bleak pictures of the world – they might not be positive, but they're honest and compelling visions.

Here's a vision of Howe performing "Increment Of Love":

The Roots - Rising Down (Def Jam)
I was holding out hope for Rodney Smith to provide the best rap album of '08 but Slime & Reason was tremendously uneven and a far cry from 2005's stellar Awfully Deep. Leave it to the 'manuva'-less Roots to out raw Rodney and produce a record that it is awfully deep in its own right. Rising Down came out the gates blazing with a couple of videos that were gritty and in-your-face. "75 Bars (Black's Reconstruction)" hit harder than Balboa pounding a side of beef and the images that accompanied it were just as visceral:

In a year when hip-hop was abuzz because Nas contemplated dropping the "N" word in something other than a lyric, and Kanye went all emo-mushy-self-referential on us it was up to Jimmy Fallon's house band to show us the way.

Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer (Sub Pop)
I just double-checked and this album didn't even make the Top 50 on Bitchfork's year-end list. In fact I haven't seen it on many lists and it's a shame because this Montreal group successfully avoided the sophomore slump and followed up the incredible Apologies to the Queen Mary with a very strong effort. All those side-projects didn't divert Krug & co. from the creative catharsis that is At Mount Zoomer. There are some fantastic sounds and songs here and I remember many a pleasant shift listening to this album with co-workers at Music Trader this summer. Shame to see it get overlooked.
Here's "Kissing The Beehive":

Well if my math is right, that's another ten from the longlist and we inch ever closer to actually discussing my Top 20 albums of '08. But I need to wrap this up so Santa can come drop off my copy of Lego Batman (*fingers crossed*).

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Long and the Short of It... Part 1

Well as I mentioned in my last post, I like to leave compiling a "Best Of The Year" list until as close to year-end as possible. That task is now done and UMFM Station Manager Jared McKetiak and I are busy pre-recording our New Years' Eve special (airing 4pm - midnight CST on UMFM 101.5 and streaming online as well), counting down our individual Top 20 songs and albums.
Leading up to that broadcast I'm going to do a couple installments on the albums that made my "longlist" but, due to a combination of objective and subjective criteria, just didn't make the Top 20.

All year long I've been keeping a list in the Notes section of my iPod with strong albums I've enjoyed and when it came time to figuring out my Best of 2008 list, I had about 60 albums in contention. This may sound like a lot of records, but it's a tiny fraction of the records I've heard this year. Between reviewing for Stylus and Uptown, my position at the station, working part-time at Music Trader and just being into music generally my best guess is that the longlist represents 8-10% of everything I heard. I strongly recommend checking the albums on the longlist out - I wrestled with what did and didn't make the Top 20 and would have loved to just come up with three separate lists. But that would be cheating. Anyway - here's the first batch of titles from the longlist, starting with some releases I've already covered on Ear To The Sound.

The Airfields - Up All Night (Humblebee)
This is a great mixture of pop and shoegaze and opener "Prisoners Of Our Love" made my Top 20 songs. I wrote about this record here.

Hello, Blue Roses - The Portrait Is Finished And I Have Failed To Capture Your Beauty... (Locust)
Dan Bejar has made my list in the past with his Destroyer project, but Trouble In Dreams didn't really float my boat. However, the project he did with life partner Sydney Vermont caught my ear and kept my interest. I wrote about it here.

Woodpigeon - Treasury Library Canada (Independent)
This one's getting re-released by Boompa in February, which I hinted at here. Since that post, I discovered a live video of the song "Knock Knock" which I had written about at length.

Kutiman - Kutiman (Melting Pot)
Israel's funk scene linchpin blew my mind here.

Snailhouse - Lies On The Prize (Unfamiliar)
There are an abundance of great songs on this record, but none more-so than "They Won't Believe You." This album was one of the soundtracks to my summer road trip.

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
Yeah, believe it or not, Pitchfork's #1 Album didn't even make my Top 20. It's a rich and beautiful album that sounds AMAZING on vinyl - an already warm recording envelops listeners like a blanket. Fleet Foxes have made a fantastic debut record and it kills me a little bit that I didn't find a place for it on my list. That said, "Mykonos" from the Sun Giant EP found a spot on my Songs list.

Mr. Scruff - Ninja Tuna (Ninja Tune)
Four years since his contribution to the Solid Steel release series and SIX! since his last full-length, Mr. Scruff returns with his playful take on breaks intact and a handful of high-profile guests to aid him: Roots Manuva, Alice Russell and Will Holland (aka Quantic) all bring their skills to making this an album that was worth the wait. Here's the video to "Music Takes Me Up" with Alice Russell's fantastic vocals.

Bill Dixon - Bill Dixon With Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey)
Thrill Jockey nearly took out a lease on my Best of 2008 list - there are two TJ releases in my Top 20 and Pit Er Pat's "High Time" likely could have found a place in the longlist. It didn't, but this free jazz explosion (pun intended) did. Legendary trumpeter Dixon joins forces with Rob Mazurek (Isotope 217), Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and the rest of the Exploding Star Orchestra for a fantastic aural voyage.

Calexico - Carried To Dust (Quarterstick)

Burns and Convertino are like the Lennon & McCartney of the American desert. They write such staggeringly beautiful songs that at their core are quite simple. But the arrangements and embellishments that the band as a whole brings to the material makes complexity out of simplicity. In another year, this album would have been right up there - as it was, Calexico did provide one of the most transcendent live experiences of the year for me: their workshop with The Acorn and Apostle of Hustle at the Winnipeg Folk Fest was amazing.

Okkervil River - The Stand Ins (Jagjaguwar)
Jagjaguwar's another label that could've taken out a lease on my list, and Okkervil River nearly pulled off a back-to-back Top 20 placing after 2007's The Stage Names. Just how good a songwriter is Will Sheff? The Stand Ins are his freakin' outtakes from The Stage Names. His sloppy seconds put Sean Avery's to shame.

DJ Brace - The Electric Nosehair Orchestra Presents: Nostomania (Balanced Records)
Former UMFM host and Canadian DMC Champ DJ Brace unleashes a mind-bending turntablist experiment in line with DJ Shadow's Endtroducing... record. It uses the turntable as an instrument and combines a wide range of samples and noises to create something wholly new and original.

So that's it for Part 1, but keep your Ears peeled for more this holiday season.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

They're new to me...

The December '08/January '09 issue of Stylus hit the stands yesterday (and it's also on the completely revamped website where my interview with past Ear To The Sound subject Azeda Booth can be found) and it features Top Ten lists from a handful of the magazine's contributors, but it doesn't have one from me.
I try to wait as late as possible before assembling my year-end list (say, around year-end...) and the early November deadline for Stylus leaves nearly two full months of potentially overlooked music. Last year, I submitted a list of my Top Ten Reissues of the year because I never include reissues in my 'official' list (nor do I include compilations, best-of's or soundtracks for that matter) and this year I submitted my list of "Top 10 Discoveries of 2008 that aren't from 2008."
The list didn't make the cut however and wasn't included in the issue so I figured I'd post it here, along with a trio of albums that would likely have made my 2008 Best Of list were it not for the fact that I'm a stickler for rules and have disqualified them from eligibility because I've discovered they were released in 2007 (and re-released in 2008).

Number 10: Peter Sarstedt - Where Do You Go To My Lovely?

I owe Wes Anderson a debt for bringing this album to my attention - the short Hotel Chevalier that preceded The Darjeeling Limited featured the title track to this 1969 album from Indian artist Sarstedt (who curiously enough, grew up near Darjeeling). It's a lovely little bit of folk-pop a la Donovan and the rest of the album is as enchanting.

Number 9: Exuma - Exuma

Do you read Wax Poetics? Kudos if you do, but if you don't you should seriously get on that shit. Some of the best writing about jazz, soul, funk and hip-hop to grace the printed page. I found out about this 1970 album in the re:Discovery section of their rock issue and it is a crazy mixture of blues, funk, African rhythms and rock. Frighteningly good.

Number 8: Roy Milton - Instant Groove

I picked up a copy of this record on vinyl for $.99 at Dusty Groove in Chicago this summer and it was a stellar find - blues, r&b and jazz recorded in 1977 (and reissued on CD in 2004) by this in-the-pocket drummer and his combo.

Number 7: Clifford Brown - Study In Brown

I owe jazz artist Elizabeth Shepherd thanks for putting me on to this record. I had asked her in a lengthy interview about her favourite jazz records and she immediately mentioned Study In Brown (she's even written lyrics for some of these tracks with the hopes of eventually "covering" the album). An amazing hard bop record from 1955, it features Max Roach on drums and was one of the last albums Brown recorded before his untimely death at 25 in 1956.

Number 6: Quinteplus - Quinteplus

Released in 1972 on EMI, this Argentinian quintet's soul-jazz session was reissued by the fine folks at Vampisoul last year, with a vinyl reissue early in 2008. If you like Horace Silver or Lou Donaldson, then this album's for you.

Number 5: The Montgomery Express - The Montgomery Movement

"Steal Away" from this 1974 record makes my soul ache every time I hear it. The entire album is a beautiful blend of southern soul and gospel. The album was released on Folkways and it's a fitting home for this, the folk music of the American south.

Number 4: Salah Ragab & The Cairo Jazz Band - Present Egyptian Jazz

A compilation of material from 1968-1973 released in 2006 on Art Yard, this is some fantastic stuff. Ragab was a drummer and bandleader who worked with Sun Ra at one point and he incorporates Middle Eastern influences into existing jazz structures to create some pretty compelling and original spiritual jazz material. This is the record I alluded to in my Karl Hector & the Malcouns review in the last issue of Stylus.

Number 3: Margie Joseph - Margie Joseph

Pitchfork are a bunch of haters but I read them begrudgingly. Pop Matters doesn't rock the hate quite so much so I visit that site with less trepidation. Early this spring they rewarded my readership with a fantastic article on a forgotten soul vocalist who was supposed to be the next Aretha Franklin (Atlantic Record's words, not mine). Didn't quite happen but Joseph did put out some amazing records that have been reissued this year. Her self-titled 1973 album featured a cover of "Let's Stay Together" so good that the Reverend Al himself wrote her a congratulatory note.

Number 2: Bowerbirds - Hymns For A Dark Horse

Yeah, I think I've covered this one enough already.

Number 1: Daniel Johnston - Four original Stress-released cassettes.

This is a bit like putting Radiohead in Germany on your Top 5 Shows list - great for you but basically bragging to everyone else. But what can I say - I hit a stoop sale in Brooklyn this summer and found four original Daniel Johnston cassettes, including the fantastic Retired Boxer, and the dude sold me them for $.50 each. For two bucks I've got some great, rare cassettes and a story to brag about. Let the hating begin. So. Either go on eBay to look for these or pick up The Early Recordings issued on DualTone.

That's the list I submitted, with my added embellishments.
What I didn't submit and want to touch on now are the trio of albums I've disqualified from my 2008 Top Ten list that were so good I have to acknowledge them somehow:

Shugo Tokumaru - Exit (Almost Gold)

I was under the impression that Exit was released this year until a good friend informed me that it had been released in Japan last year and was picked up by Almost Gold (home to Peter, Bjorn & John among others). A zany mixture of children's toys, electronic loops and pop hooks so barbed they will stay lodged in your brain for weeks, Exit is a brilliant album. Too bad I didn't hear it last year.

Quasimode - The Land of Freedom (Sonar Kollectiv)

Reissued by the good Germans of Sonar Kollectiv this year, this is another record that was originally released in 2007 in Japan. Here's what I wrote in a review that also discussed Jun Miyake's Stolen From Strangers in the last issue of Stylus:
Quasimode ... come from Japan's vibrant club jazz scene (which includes the incredible Soil & "PIMP" Sessions), where the ebullience and energy of Ellington's orchestra, and Basie's bounce come together in modal party music that moves feet on the dance floor. After a brief 'intro-lude' Quasimode hit the ground running with "The Man From Nagpur" – a track that seems like they're setting the bar impossibly high for the rest of the album. Horns scorch like the heat from the rising sun, and Takahiro Matsuoka's channelling of Candido on percussion, with Yusuke Hirado's piano adding to the percussive pulse. Hirado really shines on the next cut, "Object In the Mirror," which features the great Carmen Lundy on vocals. It's no surprise that Quasimode's German label, Sonar Kollektiv chose it as the single. The band understands that audiences can't last on the dance floor forever and so they slow things down on the Latin-infused "Last Nine Days," offering a restrained respite before launching back into the melee with "Time Is Love."

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

It broke my heart to disqualify this one - fitting since listening to songs from the album like "Skinny Love" also break my heart. This is on a lot of people's Best of 2008 lists and has even taken the top spot among some people I know. Released on Jagjaguwar (a label that had a phenomenal year in my opinion), For Emma... apparently had a limited life prior to that as an independent. Recorded in a cabin in Wisconsin it's an album perfectly suited to a Winnipeg winter like the one that has arrived recently. I might not be including it on my New Year's countdown on UMFM, but I'll be playing it over the holidays nonetheless.
Here's "Skinny Love" live on Jools Holland to take us out:

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mystical chamber folk from Central Canada

Wow. It's been nearly a month since I last posted something. This whole expectant dad thing has apparently been taking up more of my time than I realized. On the upside, l'il Cubby (as we've taken to calling the baby since we discovered it dates back to our time in Chicago...) has a shiny new Baby Bjorn to be carried around in once it's born.

Anyway, enough about the Cub-ster. On to the music.

Winnipeg has produced an overwhelming number of great bands in a variety of genres - I've always contended that this city punches above its' weight when it comes to making good music - but a few years back the 'Peg produced a great band that plays a variety of genres: Mr. Pine. Working pop, folk, chamber music, prog and more into the mix, Mr. Pine's output stands alone.

The follow-up to their debut, The Gift Of Wolves, is called Rewilding and Mr. Pine asked me to write the one-sheet that they included with the album when they sent it out to radio and press. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I thought I'd post the text from that one-sheet here:

When Winnipeg outfit Mr. Pine released The Gift of Wolves in 2006, that album could be viewed as the result of a project – a whimsical collaboration between Matt McLennan and Kevin Scott that drew several other musicians into their orbit. Since then Mr. Pine has moved from project to band with a filled out roster that has grown to include Leslie Oldham (vocals), Richard Caners (violin), Jason Peters (guitar), and Ken Phillips (bass). The cohesiveness of these players is largely responsible for the great leap forward that Rewilding represents for Mr. Pine.

As with The Gift of Wolves, McLennan and Scott remain the songwriters for all of the material performed by the band but their collaborations have grown with their working familiarity and Rewilding finds them incorporating new sounds – including that other four letter word; prog – into the mix. While the material still nestles comfortably alongside the folk-rock of Fairport Convention, Rewilding stakes its own far-ranging territory with pop, baroque and post-rock incorporated as well.

One of the highlights of the album is “Sleep of Ondine,” the recording of which proved notable for Mr. Pine. The song features guest vocals from Alison O’Donnell of Mellow Candle, a band McLennan and Scott share a love of. The pair never expected their homage to Mellow Candle would feature one of its vocalists.

“Streets of York” features another great collaboration, this one much closer to home. The band enlisted the help of Winnipeg indie legend Jay Churko (Chords of Canada, Transistor Sound & Lighting Co.) who somewhat surprisingly contributed banjo. The result is an obvious first single – but Mr. Pine isn’t about singles, and Rewilding should be taken as a richly rewarding whole.

You can hear some of the new material on Mr. Pine's Myspace page and if you have Flash Player there are clips here on the band's website.

That name again is Mr. Pine.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Canada's Treasure; Canada Is A Treasure...

I've been mulling an entry about the latest from Calgary's Woodpigeon for a while but it pushed itself to the front of my thoughts this week after I sat down for an interview with John Ralston Saul about his latest book, A Fair Country. So what's the connection with Woodpigeon's Treasury Library Canada? On the face of it, there's the strange similarity in the cover art:

On the Treasury Library Canada cover, there's a cute little village on top of a fox (or is it a fox? I'm not even sure - zoology's not my strong suit)

And on the cover of A Fair Country, Canada's parliament sits atop a turtle (which represents the aboriginal concept of Turtle Island)

I find it interesting how we (Canada, people, etc.) are supported or held aloft by the natural world in both these images and yet we may be unaware of this fact because the turtle is below the waterline and the 'fox' is hidden by the fold of the cover.

The connection between the two runs deeper than the cover art though. Saul's book is a wake-up call to Canadians to recognize that the organizational origin of our country is not Western Democratic, nor is "Order" a foundational tenet in Canada. He insists that Canada is instead a Metis nation, and that a nation of "Peace, WELFARE, and Good Government" was envisioned in our early years. But we've turned our backs on these facts and attemtped to emulate Britain and the United States out of an inferiority complex that has hampered our ability to succeed on our own terms - we need to wake up to this and embrace our true selves.

Coincidentally, Treasury Library Canada begins with a wake-up call in "Knock Knock." "Knock knock, is anyone there?" sings Mark Hamilton as the song concludes, before "Piano Pieces For Adult Beginners" touches on the topic of being true to who you really are ("Don't try to be / Something you ain't") and not settling for/succumbing to simplistic motivations ("Don't do pride, don't do fate"). For this alone I think Mr. Saul may have found a suitable soundtrack to his public lectures on the book.

Putting the links between Treasury Library Canada and A Fair Country aside, Woodpigeon's latest album is a worthy follow-up to the lovely Songbook from 2006. There is more of the fantastic layering of instrumentation used to build little walls of sound. To take my recurrent example; "Knock Knock" starts simply with guitar, then drums and voice but ultimately builds to a quiet cacaphony that includes strings, banjo and a chorus of voices.

There are also clever song titles ("In the Battle of Sun vs. Curtains, Sun Loses and We Sleep Until Noon") and superbly sketched vignettes (the aforementioned song, for one: "And on those dark days when the sun won’t shine on me / I don’t want to have to quantify the ones I love"), that are held aloft (like the town on the cover?) by the whimsical and wistful music made by the eight members of Woodpigeon. Plus "pre-requisite special guests" as the band pithily notes on Myspace.

Unfortunately [not for the band, but for people looking for a copy] Treasury Library Canada sold out in its run of 1000 copies, but if you mark your Google Calendar for February 2009, Woodpigeon will be releasing a version of the album with a bonus disc in the UK and Europe if you absolutely-positively-must have a hard copy. AND it is available as a pay-what-you-want mp3 here.

Speaking of mp3's I was fortunate enough to participate in a recording session at UMFM with Mark Hamilton last winter and he recorded a lovely, reverberating version of "I Want To See You Again."

Don't forget to visit Woodpigeon's website, Myspace page, and the CBC3 site.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bowerbird much?

Bowerbird much? That's the question posed to me yesterday by a friend and the answer of late is 'indubitably.' Hymns For A Dark Horse was a slow-burner for me - requiring several listens to digest the material, but over the last month it has absolutely caught fire. I can't stop returning to this record and I can't help but believe that when the group sings "you're in our talons now / and we're never letting go," they're speaking directly to listeners.

This trio from Raleigh, North Carolina is comprised of Phil Moore (guitar, hi hat, lead vocals), Beth Tacular (accordion, autoharp, percussion, vocals) and Mark Paulson (violin, foot synth, percussion, vocals), and while it's Moore's vocals that will stand out on first listen, repeat plays reveal the complex relationship between the three that makes their material so compelling. One example: Paulson's violin echoes Moore's voice on "The Marbled Godwit" - neither possesses a traditional beauty, but the aching attempt to transcend their limits is my kind of gorgeous.

Hymns For A Dark Horse was originally released in the spring of 2007, but the fine folks at Dead Oceans came to the same conclusion John Darnielle from The Mountain Goats did: "It is beyond stunning. This band is the complete package." And if props from friggin' John Darnielle isn't enough - the band is opening for Calexico throughout November (and seriously, if you live in one of the cities this bill is playing, why don't you have tickets yet?!).

If you can get past the beautiful music this trio makes - and believe me, it may take several listens with a song like "Bur Oak" and the way their voices interplay on the chorus with Paulson and Tacular coming in above and just behind Moore to get beyond the song - close attention to the lyrics reveal some marvelous vignettes and address timely and timeless themes alike.

I'll leave you with not one, but two fantastic videos that were filmed as part of La Blogotheque's "concert a importer" series (which is FANTASTIC - check out the Bon Iver stuff if you can - but I digress). The first is "In Our Talons," the lyrics of which I quoted in that first paragraph. The latter is the indescribably beautiful "Bur Oak." It'll be lodged in your head for days and I'm not sorry for that.

Don't forget to visit their Myspace page and website.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

This Davenport is not a small desk...

Did you know that tennis player Lindsay Davenport's father was named Wink? This is totally unrelated to the blog, but I think it's crazy/great that someone named their child Wink, though the little one that my wife and I are currently expecting will not be named Wink or Snuffles or Apple or whatever else the kids are naming their kids these days.

I discovered that little tidbit about Wink Davenport when I was google-ing my subject for this blog, Bart Davenport. There were a couple other albums in the Ear To The Sound docket that I was considering for my next post but Palaces forced its way to the top of the pile in short order and with great effusiveness. That's because I am a sucker for quality pop songcraft and succumb readily to horns, handclaps and 'ba-ba-bah's.' There's a reason Acid House Kings' Sing Along With... was my number one album a few years back (and you can bet your back-teeth that when the follow-up to that album drops you'll be reading about it here).

You might recognize Davenport's name from his other project, a pretty sweet amalgam of soul, pop and beats called Honeycut. His solo stuff finds him eschewing the beats and only dabbling in the soul while immersing himself in the pop. Which is alright by me.

Things start slowly with the title track. "Palaces" is a wistful, delicate little tune that manages to be both breezy and wrapped in ennui at the same time. After several listens I've finally placed what it reminds me of: "Swimming Suit" from Tahiti 80's fantastic Puzzle. Both strike the same note (a harmonic minor?); one that is perfect for the expectation and dread that comes with the
turning of the leaves and all the back-to-school-ness it connotes.

The 'ba-ba-bah's' arrive with full-force on "Jon Jon," which, were it not for the spelling I would swear had been written specifically for my friend John Gordon who hosts Pop Infusion and also goes ape-shit for pop goodness. It's an infectious song that has people singing along almost immediately.

"Jon Jon" is followed by "A Young One," a song that sounds like a Motown outtake with its drum and glockenspiel intro, though Davenport's croon is a little more whitebread and tongue in cheek than Smokey Robinson and the like. You can hear it for yourself in the video below Palaces is a bit front-loaded with the best material and starts to lose steam in the middle but there are still some pop gems that merit listening the whole way through.

So here's the video for "A Young One"

Palaces is out on Antenna Farm Records and is also available digitally with vinyl to follow in October.

Be sure to visit Bart's Myspace page (where "Jon Jon" is streaming) and his official website, as well as his 'other' project Honeycut.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Doing The Spectral Boogie...

After about hour ten of driving through middle-America, you might find yourself needing a little sonic pick-me-up. The interstate stretches on, the drive broken only by the intermittent appearance of a rest-stop Star**cks and you find yourself shaking your head and blinking rapidly to snap out of the daze that has set in. The solution? Ann Arbor, MI band Nomo and their latest release, Ghost Rock!

I went back to the well several times on this album during the gazillion mile drive and it never failed to revive me and what's more, the record held up to repeated listens and revealed new textures and elements with each successive listen. Ghost Rock is the follow-up to the equally solid New Tones (Ubiquity, 2006), though this new record finds the group exploring some new sounds and moving beyond the Afro-beat Tones to incorporate Kraut Rock and noise elements into their sound.

Led by Elliott Bergman the band has coalesced over the past few years into an octet and the firming up of the numbers has resulted in an arguably tighter unit augmented by the addition of a ninth individual who on the face of it is a surprising participant: Warn Defever. The His Name Is Alive founder/member produced Ghost Rock and Defever brought a fresh batch of ideas to the studio as Bergman related in my recent interview with him. The funk is still there and the band continues to create some of their own percussive instruments, but the way in which Defever drew out those sounds is the new element that sets Ghost Rock apart from New Tones.

Speaking of New Tones, check out this sweet video before you click on the link to my interview with Elliott Bergman.


Then head over to Nomo's Myspace page and official website.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Posting at a Snail's pace...

Wow. It's been a while, hasn't it?
Well I apologize - I took a lengthy holiday IRL and upon returning I had an anniversary, a birthday and found out I'm going to be a dad so things have been pretty hectic of late. But the upside of my holiday is the fact that my gigantic road-trip (over 5500kms; about 3500mi.) provided me with ample opportunity to listen to new music and several of the albums that fueled my travels are primed for the Ear To The Sound spotlight.

For my first of the 'road-trip soundtrack' posts I'd like to spotlight an album that came up late in the journey but the timing was perfectly suited to driving along Lake Superior on my way from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay. The rugged terrain of the Canadian Shield has a hard beauty that isn't necessarily as imposing as the Rockies but the juxtaposition of exposed rock, pine trees and sunlight dancing off the lake is breathtaking in its own way and Lies on the Prize struck me as the perfect soundtrack to the sights.

Over nearly a decade and a half (dating back to 1994's Fine), Mike Feuerstack has been creating music under the Snailhouse moniker and I've been a fan since I first saw him play the Academy several years ago (back when it was actually on Academy). I was looking forward to Lies on the Prize, but any expectations I may have had about the album were blown away by the textured instrumentation and nuanced lyrics Feuerstack has recorded with the assistance of Jeremy Gara. [*In addition to recording and mixing the album, Gara also played drums, keyboards, percussion, guitar and bass! And if his name sounds familiar, chances are you've heard a little band Gara plays in.]

The natural world weaves its way into many Snailhouse songs and the topic of travel insinuates itself as well (though in the world weary way one expects from an independent musician who has logged a lot of miles criss-crossing a country as large as Canada). That Feuerstack chose to close the album with "Homesick" seemed especially fitting as I mentally calculated the hours left until I could sleep in my own bed. Road trips are great, but a significant part of their allure resides in heading home, renewed in your appreciation for your own space in this world. To (mis)quote the song, home "echos and murmurs" in the head of each traveler.

As fitting as I found "Homesick" the songs that I kept hitting repeat for were "Tone Deaf Birds" and "They Won't Believe You." The former is a brief and delicate song that has a peculiar message of resilience in noting that "tone deaf, tone deaf birds sing anyway." The song also features the first appearance of Pietro Amato's mellifluous French horn. It's this instrument that also makes "They Won't Believe You" one of the best songs I've heard this year. When the horn comes in at the 1:25 and 2:51 marks, the hairs on my arms stand straight up - each and every time I play the song. Gara's rolling toms add an ominous pulse to the track and Feuerstack's echo-effected guitar work is spooky as all get out. Sadly I can't find either of these two tracks to post here, but that just means you should get the album to hear them for yourself. The album is available from Unfamiliar Records and digitally at Zunior.

There are a couple Snailhouse songs available for download on Feuerstack's Myspace page, but unfortunately on his official web page, the MP3s have been removed recently. I'd still encourage you to visit both.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...
(and stay tuned for Nomo's Ghost Rock!!)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stop by the Azeda Booth at the music fair...

Props for this entry go to my friend Myke, the Music Director at CJSW (Calgary's finest radio station) as he's the one who first tipped me off on Azeda Booth. Considering his own taste, and the fact that he used to be in the band, I knew I had to check out their EP Mysterious Body when it arrived at the station last year. I enjoyed it, but that effort pales in comparison to what the group achieve on their full-length, In Flesh Tones, due out July 22nd on Absolutely Kosher. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about when I say 'pales,' let's say this is Mysterious Body. In Flesh Tones, in contrast, would be this. It's an immense leap forward.

The fact that In Flesh Tones is their debut full-length is a jaw-dropper as it's just so fully thought out and finds the band having thoroughly developed its own sound. There are musical signposts, certainly, but these only hint at what Azeda Booth have developed as a 'sound.' Her Space Holiday is the first that comes to mind, with the hushed vocals and dreamy, atmospheric electro-pop arrangements. All Music Guide go with Boards of Canada and The Octopus Project in their influences as well and certainly there are some ambient points that give a nod to BoC most noticeably (the opening notes of "Big Fists" for one).

But just listen to opener "Ran" (streaming on Myspace) and you'll hear how these comparisons only scratch the surface where Azeda Booth's songs are concerned. It starts with ten seconds of atmospheric keys but then the toms kick in, propelling the song with a manic energy that dispels the dreamy vibe, setting the listener up for the plaintive (and eerily panicked) opening vocals "keep me/awake/i'll stay," and later, "how can/you bring/yourself to love me."
There's a majestic desperation to these opening minutes and things only get better from there as the band experiments with claustrophobic textures and rich soundscapes, building a singular record. If this album doesn't make my Year-End "Best Of" list, I'll eat my copy.

I couldn't find a download of any of the new material, but the band has made both "Dead Girls" and "Aislinn Bos, Y" available as mp3s.

Be sure to check out the band's website, Myspace page and Facebook group, and don't forget to mark your calendars for In Flesh Tones' release date: JULY 22, 2008!

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

P.S. If you image search Azeda Booth on Google, one of the results is this. Awesome.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Other irons in the fire...

This isn't a regular entry (though I am working on another new one, which should be up in a couple days), but just a little update to tell you about some other developments you might be interested in.


UMFM's working with the fine folks at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, producing a series of podcasts featuring interviews and selections from featured performers. While most of the time I'm behind the production board, I did interview Artistic Director Chris Frayer for the first episode, which can be found here. These podcasts will be updated regularly and one of the subsequent episodes is my interview with Mark Berube (who's a great solo artist I've talked to before for the Killbeat podcast) as his spoken-word/folk group The Fugitives will be playing the FF.


Jose Gonzalez is coming to Winnipeg, playing two shows - the first on Canada Day and the second the next night, both at the Park Theatre. I managed to catch Jose by phone today and there will be a feature on him and his live show in the next Stylus.


For those of you in the 'Peg, you're likely familiar with Uptown, the weekly magazine/newspaper. Well, I've just yesterday submitted my first batch of reviews (a couple positive, one very negative) as I will be taking over reviewing electronic releases for them. Should be on newsstands soon all throughout the city, and if you live elsewhere, you'll be able to peep it here.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sadako and Victoria's Paper Cranes

Now I don't know if they're named after the famous story of Sadako and the thousand Paper Cranes, but I do know that Halcyon Days provides a good follow-up to my last entry about the Airfields' Up All Night. Though where that record was a wash of shoegazey pop-rock, this one is power-pop through and through. The rollicking piano that propels some of the Paper Cranes sugary sweet tracks would have a hard time being heard over the Airfields' wash of guitar work. (Interestingly, The Airfields are fourth among The Paper Cranes top friends and the two bands played an Unfamiliar Records/Musebox showcase together in March).

One other thing I don't know is just how new Halcyon Days actually is. The band mentions in an entry dated May 10, 2007 on their Myspace blog that they're planning their full length release for the first week of August, and a later entry dated February 26, 2008 indicates the CD is "available now," yet the album arrived just a couple weeks ago at the station. I can only presume that it was released locally and via the net in February and is only now being serviced to radio. Thank heavens they finally got around to sending it though as it's a fantastic listen and a great addition to the UMFM playlists.

Here's a live performance of "laughing sickness" from their CD Release Party, dated August 07, 2007, which leads me to believe this album's been out for a dog's age but is only now being serviced to radio. About time!

Victoria! Have you been keeping your treasures secret from the rest of the country? Take the ferry and come join the rest of Canada - we love your Chet, your Himalayan Bear, your Aaargh! Records, and now your Paper Cranes.

Don't forget to check out The Paper Cranes' Myspace page, where my favourite cut, "applecore manticore" is streaming. There are also a few tracks available on their New Music Canada artist page as well.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Flying High in the Toronto Sky...

While the Platinum Pied Pipers may have laid claim to the use of the phrase "Triple-P" or "PPP," the material on new record Up All Night makes a strong case for Toronto band The Airfields meriting a "PPP" of their own:
Pure Pop Perfection.
The band cite the Sarah and Creation Record labels as influences on their Myspace page and this is evident from the first notes of opener "Prisoners Of Our Love," which is one of the most blissful songs I've heard this year. I'm certain "Prisoners..." would make Robert Wratten jealous.

The Airfields follow up the bliss of "Prisoners..." with "Never See You Smile" at which point it becomes obvious that as influential as the twee-pop of Sarah Records was on the genesis of Up All Night, shoegaze was equally important, with the band building on My Bloody Valentine's legacy.

"Yr So Wonderful" is another one of the tracks that demonstrates the debt The Airfields owe to My Bloody Valentine, with the melodically squalling guitars that threaten to overtake the vocals of lead singer David Lush (and how's that for a descriptive last name?), without ever quite doing so. Part of that effect is achieved by the mix that keeps the guitars front-and-centre while Lush's voice dances around. Close attention to the lyrics being sung reveal a take on love that's as blissful as the music - this album is as much about swooning as it is swoon-inducing.

A complete stream of Up All Night is available at CD Baby - if I haven't convinced you to check the album out, a full listen definitely will.

Don't forget to check out The Airfields website and Myspace pages, as well as the Humblebee Recordings website as well.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...