Thursday, December 31, 2009

The 2009 Longlist Pt. 2 - In No Particular Order

By the time this is up, you'll be able to tune in to hear my Top 20 albums and songs on UMFM (the countdown starts at 5pm CST and will be rebroadcast New Year's Day at 10am CST).

The Western States - Bye And Bye (Dollartone)
Packing the van for Texas, this fantastic local band benefited from the warm sounds they were able to capture in Premium Recording Studios in Austin, but even more so from a growth in songwriting on their sophomore album. "Fictional Divide," "The Water Remembers My Face" and other songs draw comparisons to Gram Parsons' work because they sound like instant classics.

Andrew Bird - Noble Beast (Fat Possum)
I'll be honest, I wasn't particularly hot on Armchair Apocrypha. After the wonders of Mysterious Production..., that record felt flat to me. I was glad to find him regaining the deft touch at pop songcraft and employing his fantastic whistling sparingly on Noble Beast. If you're able to find it, the double-release with Useless Creatures is worth tracking down.

OK Giraffe - OK Giraffe (Independent)
I wrote about the charms of this little album a while back.

Morrissey - Years Of Refusal (Decca/Universal)
If it's a year where Morrissey is releasing an album of new material (and not one of those b-side horses he trots out occasionally) and the album doesn't completely suck, then it's automatically in consideration. Years of Refusal is a little uneven, but there are a few gems on here. It's no You Are The Quarry, but (mercifully) it's no Southpaw Grammar either.

Telefon Tel Aviv - Immolate Yourself (Bpitch Control)
This one is a bittersweet entry as it is likely the final release from this fantastic electronic duo. Just prior to the release of Immolate Yourself, group member Charles Cooper passed away quite suddenly. I don't know if Joshua Eustis
has any intention of carrying on as Telefon Tel Aviv, but if he chooses not too, this is a strong album to finish on.

The Whitest Boy Alive - Rules (Bubbles/Smalltown Supersound)
Look for Erlend Øye to show up in another musical venture later on, but for now it's his collaboration with a handful of Berlin-based musicians under the Whitest Boy Alive moniker. Rules is decidedly more dance-y than Dreams (coming off like Phoenix at times), but still has Øye's unmistakable vocals at the core.

Royksopp - Junior (Astralwerks)
Most years, this would have been my top electro-pop record as Norwegian duo Royksopp deliver their best record since their debut, Melody A.M.. The pair craft some memorable tunes and manage to evoke their older material without sounding dated.
Collaborating with the likes of Robyn doesn't hurt as her contribution to "The Girl and The Robot" made it one of my favourite singles of '09.
*Wait for the Top 20 to find out what my top electro-pop record was.*

Tim Hecker - An Imaginary Country (Kranky)
While comparisons have been made to the likes of Fennesz and Ulrich Schnauss, with An Imaginary Country, Montreal's Tim Hecker really came into his own in crafting ambient electronic music. From standout opener "100 Years Ago" it's quite clear that Hecker is forging his own sound - a peculiar mixture of ominous and uplifting tones.

Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens - What Have You Done, My Brother? (Daptone)
I wrote about Naomi Shelton on this here blog in a double-entry with Lee Fields & The Expressions. Expect to see Fields make a reappearance later on...

Bowerbirds - Upper Air (Dead Oceans)
Ah, Bowerbirds. If you had served notice with Upper Air and then released Hymns For A Dark Horse, it'd be a different story. Upper Air doesn't really 'slump' but it is clearly a sophomore effort that pales in comparison to their 2007 release. That record would likely have been a Top 5 choice this year, while Upper Air was just a contender.

Chairlift - Does You Inspire You (Kanine/Columbia)
I've got conflicted emotions about this record. I reviewed it for Stylus and quite liked the Brooklyn band's curious Kate Bush-ian lyrics ("Planet Health") and synth-pop. But then I heard "Bruises" in the change rooms at Old Navy. I'm not sure whether that says something about my musical tastes, or about Old Navy's music director. If it's the latter, that person deserves a raise.

Nestor Wynrush - Trinnipeg !78 (Clothes Horse Records)
I've already written about this record at length. What are you waiting for? Go pick up a copy at Music Trader!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The 2009 Longlist Pt. 1 - Missed It By That Much

So after an intense period of re-listening to the longlist and poring over tea leaves, I've finally compiled my Top 20 Albums of 2009, which will be revealed in the fifth annual New Year's Eve special on UMFM (101.5 FM in Winnipeg or streaming live at That show - which will also feature my Top 20 songs and the selections of co-host and UMFM Station Manager Jared McKetiak should start around 4pm on the 31st and run right up to the big apple plummet in NYC. And if you miss it on the 31st, we'll be rebroadcasting it during the day on the 1st.

I will be posting my Top 20 selections here AFTER January 1st, but as I did last year, I'm going to take some time to run through the worthy contenders that made my longlist for consideration. All told, the longlist ran sixty-nine entries long - meaning after subtracting my Top 20 there were forty-nine 'also-ran's.' I'm going to break the list up into four batches and while the three after this are bundled in no particular order, this first group of twelve albums are the ones that were in very serious consideration for the Top 20, narrowly missing inclusion. They're the records I debated over and their omission weighs heaviest.

Here we go:

Russian Circles - Geneva (Suicide Squeeze)
This one weighed especially heavy on me (no pun intended). Station was my #1 album of 2008 and Geneva was a strong follow-up. I was surprised by how quickly the band put this together after officially adding Brian Cook as bassist and an intense touring schedule for Station, but Geneva didn't sound hurried and was a natural progression for the band. They even incorporated strings into some of the songs that avoided sounding pretentious or superfluous. No small feat.

Dog Day - Concentration (Outside)
This gender-balanced four-piece from Halifax made one of the best straight-up ROCK records of 2009 with Concentration. I've already blogged this album at length, so I'd just encourage you to read my previous entry (and go pick up a copy of the Elder Schoolhouse 12-inch that came out recently).

Tiny Vipers - Life On Earth (Sub Pop)
Here's another one I blogged about earlier in the year (and no, inclusion on Ear To The Sound doesn't necessarily mean inclusion on my longlist...). This was a quiet and unassuming record that stuck with me.

Throw Me The Statue - Creaturesque (Secretly Canadian)
I literally put this one in the Top 20, then pulled it. Twice. I re-listened to Creaturesque more than any other record while compiling my list and think it's a flat out great record, but I still bumped it. In my review of the record for Stylus, I noted that "it doesn’t happen too often, but when it does I can’t help but be impressed. Seattle’s Throw Me The Statue have followed up 2008’s Moonbeams – one of my Top 20 of last year – with an album that has quickly established itself as a contender for this year as well."
I'm still impressed.

Sleep Whale - Houseboat (Western Vinyl)
I wrote about Sleep Whale's Little Brite EP, but of course, it being an EP it was excluded from consideration. Since the release of that EP, the band released a full-length on Western Vinyl that built nicely on the promise and ideas of Little Brite. I think this one was the wife's favourite from the nearly-made-its.

Lightning Dust - Infinite Light (Jagjaguwar)
Amber Webber and Joshua Wells started Lightning Dust as a side-project to chart different musical waters from Black Mountain. While I LOVE me some Black Mountain, the pair could stick to Lightning Dust at this point and I'd be pretty content. Infinite Light was a big step forward from their self-titled debut and a thoroughly captivating listen.

Nomo - Invisible Cities (Ubiquity)
Apparently 2009 was not a good year to release a follow-up to one of my favourite records of 2008. Nomo's Ghost Rock was my #2 record last year and McKetiak was pretty surprised to hear Invisible Cities didn't make the 2009 cut. It was a strong follow-up, but I felt it didn't quite measure up to the prior record in terms of energy or experimentation.

The Lytics - The Lytics (Pipe and Hat)
This was one of the most joyous records of the year and having seen the group perform live, I know they've managed to capture the energy and sound of their live show on their self-title debut. This is the type of positivity-oriented hip-hop that takes me back to the days of the Native Tongues and one of my favourite records of all time: 3 Feet High & Rising. Listen for a cut from this record in my Top 20 songs on the 31st.

Quiet Nights Orchestra - Chapter One (Do Right!)
The tagline for the QNO's website on Google says "New Swedish Jazz with Classic Elements" and that aptly summarizes the sound, but not the scope of Chapter One. While it was released on Toronto's Do Right! label, it could just as easily have found a home at imprints as diverse as Compost or Verve.

Letting Up Despite Great Faults - Letting Up Despite Great Faults (New Words)
Here's another record that made a contribution to my Top 20 Songs of 2009. The band name suggests a particularly emo sound, but this LA group make indie-electro that borrows from shoegaze and crests and troughs like the waves near Malibu.

Ohbijou - Beacons (Last Gang)
Here's a group that won me over with their live performance. Thinking about their show had me re-exploring the little treasures on offer on Beacons. And then the group did a little cover of Wham's "Last Christmas" that endeared them even further to me over the holidays. But those factors weren't quite enough to push them into the Top 20.

Jay Reatard - Watch Me Fall (Matador)
Here's a guy who showed up on a LOT of lists last year with Singles 06-07, but since that was a compilation it didn't meet my criteria. Watch Me Fall isn't quite as strong as that comp, but it's still a heck of an album (and I'm of the opinion it's more difficult to assemble a front-to-back album than a collection of singles).

Monday, December 21, 2009

They were never in the running...

By now, you'd have to be living in a cave to have missed the Year-End and Decade's End lists that are being bandied about. While I'm still working my way through the longlist for my Top 20 of 2009 (currently sitting at 60 albums long) in advance of my annual New Year's Eve spectacular on UMFM, I can give a rundown on a list of albums that were never in the running. Which is not to say that they're not good records, just thanks to the list-fascist that lives within, they're disqualified by virtue of being one of the following: a compilation, a reissue, a soundtrack, a live album or an EP. That's right, only original-material individual-artist full-lengths make the Ear To The Sound longlist. Anything else gets a handshake and a hearty 'huzzah.'

Rest assured that once the longlist has been winnowed down to my top 20 I'll be repeating last year's exercise in music-critic-masturbation and detailing each of my picks with the "Also rans" kicking things off.

For now, here are my "fuck I loved these records, if only I'd let myself count them" selections:

Timber Timbre - Timber Timbre [Out Of This Spark / Arts & Crafts]

Taylor Kirk is this year's Justin Vernon. Dude releases one of the best albums of the year AT THE VERY END of the preceding year and totally misses my prior year's Best Of and is disqualified for the current year. Timber Timbre would have had a guaranteed Top 5 placing for 2009 if it hadn't come out in late December 2008. Seriously, I wait until the last possible minute to do my list and stuff like this still happens.

**See comments one through three below to see why I striked this.**

Eau Claire Memorial Jazz 1 feat. Justin Vernon - A Decade with Duke [Jagjaguwar]
Speaking of Justin Vernon, he went back to Eau Claire, Wisconsin to perform with his old high school jazz band and the result is A Decade with Duke which features two Bon Iver songs and a half-dozen jazz standards, including "Miss Otis Regrets" which is a really spooky tune when you listen to the lyrics.

Crush Buildings - Surrender Sleep [Independent]
I know I just wrote about this Ottawa band mere minutes ago, but the album apparently came out in 2008 and only recently made its way outside of the capital city and into my inbox. Still worth a listen. "Ghoul Pounds" remains on heavy rotation 'round these parts.

The Wilderness of Manitoba - Hymns of Love & Spirits [Independent]
Another group I've already written about that finds itself on this here list - but not because it actually came out in '08. No, Hymns of Love & Spirits is on here because it is an EP. I honestly can't remember when exactly I established my criteria, but the gist of not counting an EP is because it's conceivably easier to write a few good songs and release a solid EP than it is to write a strong full-length record. In fact, a few mediocre records could have the fat trimmed from them and be really lean, mean EPs in my mind. Now it may in fact be just as difficult to write a strong EP as LP, but them's the breaks.

Death - For The Whole World To See... [Drag City]
This one took me back to one of my first posts here on Ear To The Sound. They sound totally different, but it's another one of those records I can't believe was canned after it was first recorded and that still sounds as fresh and exciting decades later. The weed must have been really good back then.

Various - Forge Your Own Chains, Vol. 1: Heavy Psychedelic Ballads and Dirges 1968-1974 [Now Again]

Leave it to Egon (he of Stones Throw) to unearth these gems and release them in a gorgeous looking double-LP. Who knew psychedelia was so funky? Some of these are behemoths - like bookends "Song Of A Sinner" and "Somebody's Calling My Name" (by Top Drawer and Baby Grandmothers respectively), but some of them are summer-fling brief. All of them are quality.

Various - Tumbélé! Biguine, Afro & Latin Sounds from the French Caribbean, 1663-1974 [Soundway]

Kudos to my boss and friend, Jared McKetiak, for putting me on to this one. Covering some of the same period as Forge Your Own Chains, this is an entirely different sound. Soundway is one of those labels doing fantastic work that goes largely unsung - they dig away at music from the far corners of the world and bring it to ears desperate for new sounds (or at least new to them).

Various - Brownswood Bubblers 4 [Brownswood Recordings]

I'm not wishing I had a different life from the one I'm leading, but if I could have anyone else's career, it would be Gilles Peterson. Dude has a fantastic radio show on the BBC, has run a couple dope labels, digs for records like a fiend, and has been responsible for a whole whack of fantastic compilations, including this one. Vol. 4 in his series of spotlights on the Brownswood label (his own, natch) has some known quantities (Mayer Hawthorne, El Michaels Affair) and some new names that are now on my "ones to watch" list (yU, Souleance, Floating Points). I dropped a couple selections from this album at the UMFM Christmas party last week and it went over like gangbusters.

El Michaels Affair - Walk On By: A Tribute to Black Moses [Truth & Soul]
Speaking of El Michaels Affair, their tribute to Isaac Hayes definitely deserves a spot on the shoulda-been-a-contender list. Taking a break from covering the Wu-Tang Clan, the instrumental group tackle "Bumpy's Lament" and "Shaft" among others. Originally a download-only release, Walk On By is apparently now available on vinyl.

24 Carat Black - Gone: The Promises Of Yesterday [Numero Group]
Another year, another Numero Group release on one of these lists. Those dudes in Chicago know what they're doing when it comes to reissues and compilations and as usual, they put as much care into the packaging and liner notes as they do into the music itself. 24 Carat Black's first record, Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth [Enterprise, 1973] has been sampled by the likes of Jay-Z and Digable Planets and was thought to be the only recording the band put to tape. But it turns out that for "35 years, the sketches for 24-Carat Black’s sophomore release hibernated in keyboardist and session engineer Bruce Thompson’s basement below the south side of Chicago." Some of the recordings were lost to damage, but Numero Group was able to salvage six songs, collected on Gone.

Pax Nicholas & the Netty Family - Na Teef Know De Road Of Teef [Daptone]
Daptone - the label that brought you Sharon Jones - is known primarily for releasing contemporary albums that sound like they could be unearthed treasures from yesteryear. But as they did with the excellent Bob & Gene reissue, with Teef Know De Road Of Teef they're bringing an amazing album recorded decades ago to the attention of current audiences. Nicholas Addo-Nettey was a Ghanian-born artist who performed in Fela Kuti's Africa 70. As it's told in the Daptone annals, Kuti heard Teef... and immediately demanded the record be buried. I guess the dude was threatened by how good a record this is.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chrush-mas Time...

UMFM, the station where I work and host my radio show, belongs to the National Campus and Community Radio Association (aka the NCRA) and member stations report their weekly charts to a national chart known as Earshot. If you read Exclaim, you’ve likely seen the charts in the back page.
At an NCRA conference a few years back the Music Directors from various stations came up with idea to send out mailers with prime local material for others to check out. When it comes under the banner of another c/c station and not just out of the blue, folks are more inclined to check a record out.

Case in point is today’s album which came from Ottawa via the fine folks at CHUO last week. With the great packaging (which I can’t find a picture of, but trust me, it’s hella cool), I would have checked this album out regardless but with the stamp of approval from Joni Sadler, Surrender Sleep from Crush Buildings was moved to the top of the review pile.

I was totally taken with the album, right from opener “Konstantinos,” and by the third (and best) track, “Ghoul Pounds” I was sold on this two-piece (or is it five-piece?) take on Kid A-esque glitchy rock and started poking around the interweb to find out more about Crush Buildings. Imagine my surprise to discover that Surrender Sleep was actually released in August of 2008! Apparently the ‘neverending delays’ that I Heart Music referred to weren’t limited to the creation of the record but also to getting it out beyond the 613.

Whatever the reason for it taking so long, I’m just glad it’s getting a broader release and hopefully a broader audience.

You can check out the band’s Myspace page and website, but it would appear neither of them has been updated in a while… Crush Buildings, if you’re still out there, what are you up to??

Friday, November 20, 2009

What The Wild Things Record

It's been more than a minute since I last posted here on Ear To The Sound. Life outside of the interweb seems to keep interrupting and deadlines for publications that actually have such things weigh heavier than this self-directed exercised.
That said, since it's been a while, this one's a triple-feature like they used to do on holiday weekends at the Odeon drive-in back in the day. The common link between the three disparate sounding acts is that all have nature-inspired names.

First up is Bear In Heaven, who apparently Pitchfork have blessed with a "Best New Music" which means me and the 'Fork have been seeing eye-to-eye on more than a few records of late. Should I be concerned?
Beast Rest Forth Mouth is Bear In Heaven's sophomore album and instead of a slump it finds the Brooklyn band standing ramrod straight. While the music recalls Animal Collective with its expansive - at times chaotic - sound, it is also a more muscular, direct listen. Gauzy vocals and distant toms on opener "Beast In Peace" are abandoned a minute-and-a-half in for piercing, layered guitars and screams.
This is followed by the urgent shuffle of "Wholehearted Mess" with its insistent keyboard lines and "dig out/dig out/dig out" chorus. Look for Beast Rest Forth Mouth amongst the contenders for my favourite albums of 2009.

One album you won't see amongst the contenders is Hymns of Love & Spirits from The Wilderness of Manitoba. Which is not to say it isn't worthy of inclusion - it's just that I have very strict rules about including only full-length original albums and not considering compilations, Best Of's and EP's for my year-end list. Hymns... - while amazing - is an EP and thus ruled ineligible by my inner-fascist-list-maker.
Take a listen to "Bluebirds," the gorgeous opener and then weigh the fact that "Bluebirds" isn't even the best song on the EP. That honour goes to "Crow's Feet" a heartbreaking number that doesn't so much chronicle love lost as love never discovered as vocalist Will Whitwham intones "Love's just a word that he learned how to speak."
While the seven songs included on Hymns... (plus a bonus track, Whitwham's mother's original version of "Evening") are primarily acoustic, calling this a folk record would be a disservice to the band and to the genre. The Wilderness of Manitoba are 'folk' in the way of The Wooden Sky and Evening Hymns, not Pete Seeger and Bruce Cockburn. This is an amazing album - regardless of length. They do get bonus kudos for name-checking my home province.

Our last nature-based artist for today is Sea Wolf who quietly follows up 2007's great Leaves In The River with White Water, White Bloom. This is the third record Alex Church has recorded under his Sea Wolf moniker as well as the third released via the under-appreciated Dangerbird Records label (One AM Radio, Silversun Pickups, Dappled Cities). Church has been Creek Drank The Cradle wispy in the past, but much like Sam Beam's most recent effort, there's a heft to White Water, White Bloom that's evident right from opener "Wicked Blood." It doesn't hurt that the song is also catchy as hell.
Attention to songcraft is evident all over this album and there are numerous tracks that stick in the brain long after the final tune has played.

Check out the video for Sea Wolf's excellent lead-off track, "Wicked Blood" starring (where-the-hell-has-she-been) Shannyn Sossamon.

Visit Bear in Heaven's Myspace and their official website.

The Wilderness of Manitoba can be found on Myspace and on Facebook.

Check out Sea Wolf's Myspace page and official website.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spooky Scary

Just in time for Halloween and all the attendant ghouls and goblins comes Dead Man's Bones, the debut album from Dead Man's Bones (I know, right?). While I would have appreciated a more original title, if the band exhausted their creative efforts coming up with the material on the album then I'm fine with that. There's even a song called "Dead Man's Bones" putting the group on a even footing with Wilco right now.

The album also features song titles including "Buried In Water," "Flowers Grow Out Of My Grave" and "Lose Your Soul" which should give you a bit of a hint about how macabre the material is. Add in the fact that the band is accompanied by a choir of schoolchildren and it becomes particularly creepy. It's like a Langley Schools Music Project record if Dario Argento was the choirmaster. Despite the creepy vibe, there's still a sunniness that can't be masked as the children take great delight in belting out lyrics like "my body's a zombie for you" which can be heard below:

If Dead Man's Bones was just creepy lyrics delivered by kids, this would be a novelty act quickly forgotten after November 1st, but there's great musicality and a gentleness to the record as well. The first part of "Name In Stone," for instance, brings to mind Devendra Banhart's light touch.

Don't forget to check out Dead Man's Bones Myspace page and website, which are both creepy as fuck - check the dude digging the grave on the official website (although admittedly the disembodied head on Myspace kinda makes me think of this)

Oh, if you're wondering how long it would take me to mention the fact that actor Ryan Gosling is in this band, here's your answer. But to be honest, I listened to this album and was captivated before I learned that fact. That first listen was prompted only because it's on one of my favourite labels; Anti-. Look past the 'vanity project' / 'actor band' epithets likely to be slung by those who haven't really listened. Speaking of which...

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's Not The Band I Hate, It's Their Name...

Seriously, what is in the water in Sweden. Is there some secret experiment going on where the drinking water has been mixed (or outright replaced) with Coca-Cola? How else to explain their proficiency at writing incredible pop songs.
For decades now there have been a string of absolute pop marvels produced by Swedes and I'm officially adding The Mary Onettes to a list that includes ABBA, the Cardigans, Robyn, the Acid House Kings, Peter Bjorn & John and Jens Lekman.

Hailing from Torpa, Jönköping, this quartet is about to release their second full-length album, Islands, on November 4th on Labrador Records. While I enjoyed their 2007 self-titled debut album, they take a great step forward here with both the production and the songwriting.

Album highlight "Dare" features an epic intro that swells with guitars and electronic strings before receding when Philip Ekström's impassioned vocals come in. They come back on the chorus - which is epic without screaming "EPIC" - and then dissipate again on the verses, simmering in the background. The best part is that the band chooses to match the accompaniment to the melodic line as Ekström climbs the register on "now I know / turning here / ain't that hard / despite my fear" [**I may be wrong about that second line - I can't find the official lyrics anywhere**]. It's always a risk for the entire focus to be on the melody and abandon harmony but damned if The Mary Onettes don't pull it off.

Their sound is a bit more muscular on lead-off single "Puzzles," a keyboard-driven tune reminiscent of New Order's work and another slice of pop perfection, where lyrics that express ennui and searching are dressed up in catchy melodies. This is where fans of The Smiths ears perk up like mine did.

Now about the band's name and my title for this post... maybe 'hate' is too strong a word, but I certainly don't like it. Why not The Marionettes? Or something altogether different. The 'cleverness' of Mary Onettes just makes me think of the movie That Thing You Do where the band want to call themselves the Oneders and people pronounce it oh-nee-ders instead of won-ders. Ah well, I'm not in the band so it wasn't my decision.

While the rest of the material on Islands is uniformly solid, take a listen to my favourite song from the album, "Dare" as well as "Puzzles," both courtesy of Magnum PR.

And be sure to check out the Mary Onettes Myspace page and their Labrador Records artists' page while their official website is under construction.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Old Friends, Back Again...

A brief post on some past Ear To The Sound favourites that have recently released new records worth a listen:

I guess we'll take this alphabetically and start with the Bowerbirds.
Upper Air was released on Dead Oceans July 7th and it is a strong follow-up to Hymns For A Dark Horse. None of the songs have stuck in my head the way "Bur Oak" did, but it's still a solid collection with the same blending of folk and indie as on the prior record.

Have a listen to "Northern Lights"

Next up is Victoria, B.C. band the Paper Cranes who followed up Halcyon Days with Chivalry's Dead - an album that came out on my birthday this August. When I spoke to Ryan McCullagh from the band recently, he explained that the title isn't a statement about the state of manners in contemporary society or the impact of feminism on notions of chivalry. "[The phrase] just stuck in my head from Archie comics when I was a kid. Archie wouldn't hold a door open for Veronica and she would say "oh, chivalry's dead." I wish I could say there was some deeper meaning to it than that, or I had some sort of social commentary but it was Archie comics."

You can listen to the title track, and many other Paper Cranes songs here.

Lastly, we've got Geneva - the follow-up to Station from Chicago's Russian Circles. Still with Suicide Squeeze, they have grown from a duo to a trio adding bassist Brian Cook to the official lineup after he guested all over Station. The album will be released on October 20th, but I've had a couple listens to an advance copy that just landed at the station and Geneva is every bit as monstrously beautiful and punishing as my #1 record of 2008. Good god - could they repeat the feat in 2009??!!

Feast your ears on the Suicide Squeeze stream of the entire album while I go watch my Twins feast on the Tigers.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The noises Machines make...

Another double-stuffed Oreo of an entry, this time from two acts who share a titular commonality.

First up is the much-anticipated solo project from TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone, Rain Machine. The self-titled debut on Anti- (seriously, this Epitaph subsidiary has a friggin' dream roster: Tom Waits, Joe Henry, Mavis Staples, Islands and more) just dropped to whatever hysteria is smaller than 'mass' but still sizable.

The album is as difficult to pin down and as challenging a listen as you would expect of someone involved with TVOTR. There are beautiful passages, noise, nonsense, rawk and more on offer on Rain Machine and it has quickly earned a spot on the longlist.

Stereogum posted "Smiling Black Faces" at the beginning of the month if you want to take a listen, though that track and "Give Blood" are both streaming on Rain Machine's Myspace page.

Here's a recent live performance of "Give Blood" from a show in Brooklyn:

Speaking of Brooklyn, the second album comes by way of an East Village band called Electric Tickle Machine who played selections from their album Blew It Again at a show early this summer when this video for "Something Else" was recorded:

The band will be back in Brooklyn for a spate of dates as part of the CMJ extravaganza/bonanza (if you're going, I am indeed jealous) October 20 - 23 so check the band's Myspace page or the CMJ site for more info.

Blew It Again is a solid offering of fuzzed out rock with some really catchy pop hooks buried beneath the squall of guitar (nowhere more-so than on the title-track). The band is unsigned but getting promotional support from the fine folks at Pirate! promotion (who have no affiliation with Andrew McCutchen*) which is how the album landed on my desk recently.

Thanks for reading, now start listening.

*McCutchen for NL Rookie of the Year!!

The Kings Live, Long Live The Kings!

This isn't my typical album-in-a-nutshell type post as Declaration of Dependence has yet to be released but two singles from the long-awaited new Kings of Convenience record are out and videos have been made.

Bask in the greatness that is "Boat Behind"

And then follow this link to see/hear "Mrs. Cold"

New album posts coming soon!

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bellwoods Two For The Price Of One...

Here's one I've been meaning to write about for quite some time - in fact it's a two-fer as both albums arrived on my desk around the same time and have a connection (in addition to both being "sophomore albums" of a sort).

The first of these is the second volume of the Friends In Bellwoods benefit compilation. The original comp came out in early 2007 and featured a litany of fantastic indie artists that (to quote the liner notes):
"captures the spirit and camaraderie that has come from Bellwoods, a small house on the fringes of Queen St. West in the heart of downtown Toronto."

The house may be on the fringe of Queen St. West but it's at the heart of Toronto's indie music scene with two members of Ohbijou residing there and many more dropping through the doors to spend time. The album was the first release by Out Of This Spark which has gone on to release records by the D'Urbervilles, Timber Timbre and many more of my favourite albums of the past two years. AND they'll be releasing the next album from Ear To The Sound friend (and past post subject) Evening Hymns.

Many of the artists that contributed to the first record return for Volume 2 - even those who have blown-up in the intervening couple years. The Acorn and Rural Alberta Advantage for example have both had rapturous responses to their recent albums but still lend their talents and time to "Slippery When Wet" and "Rough and Tumble" respectively (the former has nothing to do with Bon Jovi, btw). There are also newcomers to the project including the lovely Basia Bulat who shines on "My Heart Is A Warning," and Snailhouse, who follows-up a fantastic album with "Don't Go Anywhere."

The compilation is so chock-a-block with great material that it is a freakin' double-disc. It's a freakin' bargain and as with the first FiB, all proceeds from sales go to benefit the Daily Bread Food Bank and can be purchased via Zunior, mail-order or on iTunes.

The second album I want to mention is from a group that has appeared on both volumes of FiB, but they were credited as Friday Morning's Regret on the first. Interestingly, the song they contributed to Volume 1 became their new band name. I'm talking about The Wooden Sky. They close out disc two of FiB v.2 with "My Old Ghosts" but soon after the release of the compilation they came out with the full-length record from which that track is taken.

If I Don't Come Home You'll Know I'm Gone is the band's follow-up to The Wooden Sky and their first for Black Box Recordings. It's a magnificent record that flips a middle-finger to the notion of a sophomore slump by besting a solid first record with even better material. Things begin with the impassioned "Oh My God (It Still Means A Lot To Me)" and never let up.
"(Bit Part)" may just be the best song Blue Rodeo has never written and the quality of this baker's dozen collection of songs is uniformly strong and memorable.

The album was recorded by Howard Bilerman (though it's credited to "Billerman" on the liner notes), who has done fantastic work with Basia Bulat, Vic Chesnutt and others and turns in yet another note-perfect, un-flashy job here.

Check out the video for "Oh My God"

And don't forget to visit The Wooden Sky's Myspace page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

B(l)ack and blue...

After a lengthy delay thanks to my life outside the internet, I've got a couple posts coming down the pike. But until I wrap 'em up, here's another Miike Snow video to enjoy. This one featuring a Bob Ross / The Dude type fella in his housecoat.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Talking It Out...

Rarely has an album title been more on-the-mark than Speech Therapy, the debut record from UK MC Speech Debelle. With an honesty that is virtually unheard in rap music, Debelle lays it all out there for listeners. We're talking The Bell Jar level honesty (though without the suicidal feelings) and at times the confessional nature of the lyrics can feel like a little too much. Debelle even recognizes this when she notes on the title-track that "this is my speech therapy / this isn't rap."

But I was thinking recently about how self-revelatory we as a society have become on reality television, blogs and social-networking sites; and re-listening to Speech Therapy before writing this entry I now realize that Debelle is just doing what we're all doing, only in a more artful way.
When she addresses her ex-lover leaving on "Go Then, Bye" she immediately echoes the abandonment issues buried in that song in the more forthright "Daddy's Little Girl" which rails against the father who walked out on her family when she was younger. It's a one-two punch to the guts and the mixture of pain and strength, hope and sadness is bracing. No wonder then that Speech Therapy is nominated for the Mercury Prize [the UK's version of the Polaris, though since it came first, the Polaris is actually Canada's version of the Mercury...]

Released on the ever-outstanding Big Dada imprint (home to Roots Manuva, Ty, etc.) the album is finally making its way across the Atlantic and was officially released to North American audiences on Tuesday the 18th of August.
As unusual as her lyrical honesty is, Debelle's record also benefits from some unusual production and beats making it a rewarding listen for those who have tired of the cookie-cutter hip-hop being made in North America. For evidence, check out one of my favourite cuts from the album, "Better Days" featuring Micachu:

And don't forget to check out Debelle's Myspace page and website.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Smooches to Frenchkiss

A little over a month ago we received Hospice, the debut record by Brooklyn band The Antlers. The cover art immediately caught my eye and first and subsequent listens definitely caught my ear. "Bear" for one has been on heavy rotation when I take my beagles on their nightly gambol (we don't say 'walk' in front of them or else they go apeshit and start barking up a storm).

Hospice arrived directly from the band, but it's getting re-released to the wider audience it deserves via Frenchkiss Records. The remastered version is available now digitally, but will be released on CD and vinyl on August 18 (MY BIRTHDAY! Thank you Frenchkiss!!). If you still base your music-purchasing (or -downloading) decisions on what Pitchfork thinks, you'll be pleased as punch to hear that it was awarded Best New Music. I'm just surprised to note that there's been more overlap between me and the kids these days...

The music that The Antlers make vacillates between delicate and chaotic, sometimes within the confines of a single song. Hospice begins with the ominous "Prologue," which is followed by Peter Silberman's wispy whisperings on "Kettering." As weightless as that track is, the band's tribute to Sylvia Plath that follows is a heavy piece of work replete with horns and mighty percussion. The Antlers demonstrate repeatedly that they know how to build within the context of a song (most clock in at over 5 minutes) and have arranged those songs for their maximal effect as an album. Best New Music indeed.

On a somewhat-related/somewhat-tangential note, Frenchkiss Records has been on a pretty solid little roll lately: Sean Bones' Rings, Passion Pit's Manners and Cut Off Your Hands' You & I have all come out recently and have all been worth a listen. Speaking of listening, check out the Frenchkiss audio player where you can hear the above-mentioned artists as well as a new track from the upcoming Dodos record.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Miike Snow - "Burial"

Further to my Snow In June post from the 23th of last month, I just saw this awesome video for Miike Snow's "Burial" which is a relatively simple idea executed well. Extra kudos to the sound editor who did a bang-up job of integrating the natural soundscapes into the mix as well as incorporating the song effectively into the 'real world'

Check it here:

Contest Time: The Wooden Sky

Thanks to the fine folks at Musebox, I've got another contest for readers of Ear To The Sound and listeners of Thank God It's Free Range.

On August 25th, Ontario roots-rockers The Wooden Sky will be releasing their new full-length, If I Don't Come Home You'll Know I'm Gone. But prior to that, the band will be hitting the road for a jaunt they're calling the Bedrooms and Backstreets Tour. The name is significant because the band will be performing at unusual venues the entire way with few bar or club shows on the agenda. Backyards, house-parties, and out-of-the-way venues will be privy to their wonderful music in an intimate setting. The band will hit Winnipeg on August 12th, playing at Ragpickers, so to mark the occasion, I've got a sweet prize pack that includes the limited-edition Bedrooms and Backstreets EP for one lucky duck.

To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post with your name and email address OR email me at michael dot elves at with "Wooden Sky Contest" in the subject line by midnight August 11th. I'll be putting all the names in a hat but only one entry per person will go in the chapeau.

Here's The Wooden Sky’s “Something Hiding For Us In The Night” mp3 to get you motivated.

As an added bonus, I've also posted the band performing "The Wooden Sky" live on Thank God It's Free Range when they last rolled through town.

Be sure to check out The Wooden Sky's Myspace page for complete Bedrooms and Backstreets tour dates.

Friday, July 3, 2009

We Call Him Mr. Ness

Winnipeg is pretty well known at this point as a hotbed of artistic creativity. Visual-arts wise we've got folks like Marcel Dzama, and for film-making does it get any better than Guy Maddin? Music-making is no exception but the focus has always been on the rock music coming out of this city - be it back in the day with the Guess Who or more recently with the Weakerthans. There are actually vibrant scenes in a number of genres including a VERY healthy hip-hop scene but nationally Peg City hip-hop seems to fly under the radar. I'm hoping that a release like the one featured in today's post will go some way to rectifying that situation.

It's been six years since the release of Guy I'm From Here, an album he recorded under the litigious bulls-eye moniker Satchel Paige (sometimes written as Satchill Paige) and while fending off lawsuits took some time, most of the intervening period was spent honing the stories the now Nestor Wynrush wanted to tell.

Trinnipeg !78 is an intensely personal and compelling album from an artist who is laid-back and fairly joyous in his day-to-day life (where most of us call him "Ness") but delves into somber, serious thought on the album. He also delved into somber, serious thought about Trinnipeg !78 in an interview I had with him on my show, Thank God It's Free Range which I'll post at the end of this entry.

While Ness has complete ownership of all the lyrics on Trinnipeg !78, he enlisted the help of several friends to create beats and produce cuts. The production roster includes mcenroe, soso, Kutdown, members of Grand Analog, and DJ Brace (Juno winner, DMC champ and former UMFM show host!), so it's no surprise that the depth of the lyrics is mirrored in the depth of production. What is surprising is that with so many different contributors, the album remains a cohesive effort. That's likely because regardless of who he is rhyming over, Ness is thoroughly in command of the track. If you like to be moved both literally and figuratively by your music, do yourself a favour and seek out Trinnipeg !78.

Check out "Winnipeg South Blues" below:

And here's the interview from Thank God It's Free Range, which closes with "Metro Radio" featuring DJ Brace.

Don't forget to check out the Nestor Wynrush Myspace page and I'd also recommend this article my man Birdapres (host of Cast Iron Frying Pan) did for UGSMAG.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Drifting off to Sleep Whale...

Coming in at just under a half-hour, Little Brite from Denton, Texas band Sleep Whale is a gorgeous, brief reverie of electroacoustic ambience and lilting melodies on finger-picked guitar with subtle string arrangements. Apparently the band was formerly known as MOM, but I think Sleep Whale is a much more appropriate moniker since it evokes a cozy, warm atmosphere (and let's face it, not everyone's mom brings that to mind). That atmosphere encapsulates their sound as well, which is a deft touch.

No wonder then that they chose to name one of their tracks "Sleep Whale" (a little like Wilco's new album Wilco with a song named "Wilco.")

Sleep Whale from Sleep Whale on Vimeo.

Are whales the new wolves when it comes to band names? Whatevs as long as it sounds as good as this.

You can pre-order their EP from Western Vinyl (who have also released Peter Broderick's work) here, where I found the mp3 for "Josh Likes Me."

Be sure to check out their Myspace page and website.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Snow In June!

While it's entirely too hot for the white stuff in Winnipeg right now, my ears have been treated to some snow recently. I've been listening to the self-titled album from Miike Snow quite a bit in the last little while and it has been challenging Mos Def's The Ecstatic for top spot in the rotation.

Miike Snow - despite being named after a person (Takashi Miike) - is a group.
For a while there was some mystery (a la Clutchy Hopkins) about who or what Miike Snow was, but it has now come out that the group is a collaboration amongst Andrew Wyatt, Christian Karlsson, and Pontus Winnberg. The latter two have produced under the name Bloodshy & Avant for the likes of Madonna and Kylie Minogue, but teaming up with Wyatt they elevate the electro-pop-production they've employed in the past to create a crisp record that truly pops.

Rather than simply take someone else's material and spit polish it, on Miike Snow the trio build these shiny tunes from the ground up. Drum tracks pulse while the noise effects that dance around on the beat are crucial to the mix and not mere embellishments. Speaking of the mix, this album rewards a close headphone listen as there is so much going on within it. Engineers and producers-in-training would be wise to study tracks like "Black & Blue" when things take off near the 45-second mark. Out of control.

In addition to recording their own material, Miike Snow have been busy with remixes and collabos with the likes of Passion Pit, Peter Bjorn & John and Vampire Weekend (how's that for a hipster's who's-who?) and others have been returning the remix favour. Check out the Fake Blood remix of lead-off album track "Animal" here.

You can hear the original and more where that came from.
And don't forget to check out the Miike Snow Myspace page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sad Songs Say So Much

I hesitate to say this album hit me like a thunderbolt because it's far too quiet an album for comparisons to thunder (though sadness does hang over Life On Earth like ominous thunderclouds). But Jesy Fortino's new album - her third as Tiny Vipers and second released on Sub Pop - did grab my attention on first listen and after several successive listens it has revealed great depths lyrically and the sparse instrumentation has not worn thin.

Fortino's voice is perfectly matched to her love-worn songs - it's tremulous and tender without being fragile. Her heart is broken but her soul is resilient. I can see her being left by a lover and choosing to straighten her shoulders and walk onward alone as she intimates on "Slow Motion":

I see his eyes are fading / a trail of angels / that's gone away / the world is leaving / where's it left you? / the world is leaving me too

I'm tempted to quote the song in its entirety and could easily quote many of the other lyrics on Life On Earth as Fortino's skill as a songwriter is exceptional. Rarely is the heartbreak of another person so heartbreaking to hear. And rarer still is a solo songwriter with a guitar deserving of more than a disinterested coffeehouse audience. My hope is that Tiny Vipers gains a giant audience.

Here's Fortino performing lead-off track "Eyes Like Ours" live at Public Access Media Studios:

Be sure to check out the Tiny Vipers Myspace page and official website.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Not Unlike Turkish Delight...

A while back, I got turned on to Turkish psych-folk band Mogollar - particularly their 1971 album Danses Et Rythmes De La Turquie. It's really brilliant stuff.
One day I was playing it at the station and another host happened to overhear it and we got talking about how great the album was but how brief the songs were. We imagined that catching Mogollar live the songs would likely have been epic jams that were just too brain-meltingly gigantic to fit on an LP back then so they distilled the essence of the songs for release on vinyl. We kinda wished there were 80-minute recordings back then but shrugged our shoulders and went back to enjoying what the band did record.

Then about a month or so ago, the same host mentioned the new Acid Mothers Temple record , Lords Of The Underground: Vishnu and the Magic Elixir and how it basically played like our imaginary Mogollar live show. The album is credited to Acid Mothers Temple with The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. but reading the liner notes it looks like a strictly AMT affair.

Opener "Eleking The Clay" is built atop layers of drone, squelching guitars and all sorts of bells and whistles and it percolates for almost 15 minutes. Forget Tim Horton's Tea - this is the real steeped stuff.

"Sorcerer's Stone Of The Magi" is actually a short piece written by bassist Atsushi Tsuyama so it doesn't melt the brain like the opener, but it's a decent respite before the epic closer, "Vishnu And The Magic Elixir." A 25-minute behemoth, "Elixir" is what would be playing on the spaceport in Kubrick's 2001 if the station had been built by a Turkish contractor working for a German multinational. Maybe. My mind is too liquid to really put together a coherent thought after listening to this record for the umpteenth time.

Don't forget to check out the band's Myspace page and official website.

I couldn't find an mp3 from the new record, or a video either, but here's a live performance worth checking out:

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Friday, May 22, 2009

These Young Pups Are Impressive

While they've lost the cachet of releasing their album as an import on German label Tomlab (THE mother-flippin' BOOKS!), Haligonians Dog Day are back with the follow-up to their 2007 album Night Group. Coming to you by way of the good folks at Outside Music (who have gone from being solely a distribution force to a label to be reckoned with...) Concentration builds on the strengths of that last record and exceeds even my wildest expectations about what these young'uns were capable of.

While the washes of guitar and keyboards mask it sometimes, the vocals are the heart of Dog Day and Seth Smith and Nancy Urich are both captivating singers. Smith starts opener "Happiness" with a classic indie-rock monotone delivery before some switching up to some soaring "woo-ooo's" and then he and Urich start chanting "this is the life" and the energy sells the sentiment. Urich takes center stage on "Neighbour" though it's not exactly in the center of the mix - instead her voice is like a disembodied presence floating away from the rooted rhythm section. Curiously, Smith's "I won't turn on you / I'm not like that" near the three-minute mark is front-and-center. It's an interesting choice.

"Wait It Out" is a particular favourite, with a catchy melody and hand claps (the hand claps get me every time) supported by a driving four/four beat, but it's a disservice to the strength of the record to single out favourites. Concentration works from front to back with nary a filler cut amongst the bunch.

The band is on tour with Julie Doiron (and others), and will be playing the historic Royal Albert on June 5th if you live in Winnipeg. Full tour date info is available by clicking on this link.

Concentration is available as a digital download here on Zunior.

Here's the video for "Happiness" from the new album:

Don't forget to check out Dog Day's Myspace page, Facebook page and website.

I'll leave you with "Rome" via the fine folks at Herohill.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Sure Shots Of Soul

While I was confirmed in the United Church when I was younger, me and organized religion have since parted ways and I count myself among the agnostics of the world now. But I still get a dose of spirituality thanks to one part of my personal holy trinity (music of course; the other two being literature and film). Today's entry is all about feeling the spirit with a new gospel album out on the ever-reliable Daptone Records and a fantastic soul record from the folks at Truth and Soul.

The first of these is What Have You Done, My Brother from Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens. I heard about this one recently thanks to Justin - the MD at CFUV - who ducked out of official CMJ partying to take in a live show and raved about it. He's already calling What Have You Done... the album of the year. While my personal opinion is to award that accolade to Veckatimest (so far it's the one to beat in my books), I've been spinning this album a fair bit of late and with repeat listens it hasn't lost its luster. In fact it only gets better. An Alabama native who now calls New York her home (she plays a weekly Friday-night gig at the Fat Cat if you happen to be in the NYC...), Shelton has a wonderfully rich voice that is perfectly suited to the soul/gospel she sings. For proof, take a listen to "What Have You Done" and the b-side "I'll Take The Long Road" from the 7" available now (the full-length comes out May 26th but you can pre-order it here).

The second album that's been speaking to my soul is My World from Lee Fields & The Expressions, an album that's due out on June 2, 2009 on Truth & Soul Records. Mark your calendars now and remember to head down to your favourite local record shop a couple weeks from now to pick it up because as soon as you check out the mp3 of "Ladies" you're going to want this record. Fields released several 7" singles and an LP in the 70's but My World isn't some unearthed gem from yesteryear. It was in fact recorded over the past four years and features some stellar material you'd swear was classic soul. "Love Comes And Goes" could have come from that Four Mints record I wrote about last year, and the rhythm guitar on "Honey Dove" is so smooth it could out-seduce The Stylistics. With this and the El Michaels Affair albums, Truth and Soul are on a roll - I can hardly wait to hear what they come up with on the forthcoming Aloe Blacc record (Blacc actually appears on the My World bonus track "Truth, Deception & Lies")

Thanks for reading, now start listening...